New staffing helps stabilize care at Summerside's Prince County Hospital

Health P.E.I. downgraded the hospital’s ICU in the spring of 2023 because of a shortage of internal medicine specialists and nurses. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC  - image credit)
Health P.E.I. downgraded the hospital’s ICU in the spring of 2023 because of a shortage of internal medicine specialists and nurses. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)

Dr. Tyler McDonell, medical director at Prince County Hospital, says he's cautiously optimistic about the future of critical care services at the Summerside hospital following a series of new hires.

But the hospitalist said a lot of work needs to happen before the facility can restore some of the services it lost.

Health P.E.I. downgraded the hospital's intensive-care unit (ICU) in spring 2023 because of a shortage of internal medicine specialists and nurses.

In January, services were cut even further when the hospital's progressive-care unit (PCU), which replaced the ICU, was cut from eight beds to four.

McDonell described the last 12 months as "difficult" and "chaotic."

'I know we will be back'

"We have to find ways to overcome these gaps, so not having an ICU, we had to find ways to still look after these patients right?" McDonell told CBC News during a tour of the hospital's emergency room Thursday.

"They don't all get sent [elsewhere]. Some do. The sickest of the sick do, but we've still had to find ways to manage these people in house."

Dr. Tyler McDonell, medical director at Prince County Hospital, says he’s cautiously optimistic about the future of critical care services at his hospital following a series of new hires.
Dr. Tyler McDonell, medical director at Prince County Hospital, says he’s cautiously optimistic about the future of critical care services at his hospital following a series of new hires.

Dr. Tyler McDonell, medical director at Prince County Hospital, says he’s cautiously optimistic about the future of critical-care services following a series of new hires. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

McDonell said with a busy emergency room with two trauma bays, operating rooms and an obstetrics department, it is important to see the ICU restored.

He said that can't happen soon enough.

"I know we will be back. It's a matter of when, not if we'll be back," McDonell said.

"We need to keep building. We aren't there yet, despite the early wins that we are talking about today. We've not been able to offer more services just yet."

Health P.E.I. officials confirmed two internal medicine physicians have been hired. One started earlier this month; the other will start in July.

There have also been additional respiratory therapists and nurses brought on staff.

'Make some significant progress'

There are still some big gaps, especially if the hospital wants to restore a fully functioning intensive-care unit:

  • The hospital currently has 8.64 full-time equivalent critical-care registered nurses. That would have to be increased to 25.2 for an ICU.

  • It has 6.4 respiratory therapists now. The hospital would need 10.3 for a fully functioning ICU.

  • There are now three internal medicine specialists, with a fourth starting in July. An ICU would need six.

Melanie Fraser, CEO of Health P.E.I, said the the stabilization efforts are meeting with some progress.

But Fraser couldn't say when full critical-care services would be restored.

Melanie Fraser, CEO of Health P.E.I, says she can’t say when full critical care services will be restored.
Melanie Fraser, CEO of Health P.E.I, says she can’t say when full critical care services will be restored.

Melanie Fraser, CEO of Health P.E.I, couldn't say when full critical-care services might be restored. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

"I don't want to declare success at this point, but I will say that we've been able to make some significant progress on some staffing stability that's really going to help us put the services back in the community that had been removed previously," Fraser said.

"This is going to give us the opportunity to build back the capacity, lift the acuity of patients that we're treating in the hospital, and so we're going to carry on with that focus over the summer, continue to focus on restoring our full PCU staffing, and then I think at that point we'll also take stock and then build forward on the plans ... to having a fully operational ... ICU."

Rob Philpott has been hired as Prince County Hospital's new administrator.

Rob Philpott has been hired as the hospital’s new administrator. He's previously worked for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown and the City of Summerside.
Rob Philpott has been hired as the hospital’s new administrator. He's previously worked for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown and the City of Summerside.

Rob Philpott has been hired as the hospital’s new administrator. He's previously worked for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

"Obviously, we can't put a timeline to when we believe critical-care services will reopen here in Summerside," said Philpot, who has previously worked for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown and the City of Summerside.

"There's a lot of people doing a lot of hard work behind the scenes and publicly as well to try to attract the necessary staffing that we do need."

'Positive first steps'

Summerside Mayor Dan Kutcher described the new hires as "welcomed and positive," but he realizes a lot of work still needs to be done to fully restore services to his city's hospital.

Summerside Mayor Dan Kutcher at the Summerside waterfront June 18, 2024.
Summerside Mayor Dan Kutcher at the Summerside waterfront June 18, 2024.

Summerside Mayor Dan Kutcher describes the new hires as 'welcomed and positive,' but he realizes a lot of work still needs to be done to fully restore services. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

"These are some positive first steps," said Kutcher.

"At the end of the day, we all want the same thing, which is the restoration of the critical-care services here in our community to make sure people have the health care that they need and deserve."

McDonell said they have to keep working with urgency to get the staffing they need to restore critical-care services.

"Yes, we have room to feel more optimism than we did 12 months ago," he said.

"But I think it's important not to celebrate too soon and not to be complacent because we need to continue to work with the urgency I've been seeing at all levels across Health P.E.I. to get us to that place where we're feeling stable."