Health P.E.I. took another step Thursday in downgrading services at Summerside's Prince County Hospital, even as Premier Dennis King said he had "all the money in the world" to make things better if that's all it took.
The agency said it's cutting the number of beds in the progressive-care unit at the province's second-largest hospital in half, from eight beds to four.
At the same time, two beds are being added to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital's intensive-care unit in Charlottetown to accommodate additional patients who have to be transferred from Summerside and points west.
"Leaders at each site continue to work with health-care teams to develop pathways toward sustainable staffing and relief for those who have worked short for too long," Health P.E.I. said in a statement.
"We're heavily recruiting for all areas, including allied health, nursing, physicians, and all support staff. This will include travel agency staffing, which is always a last resort and after our staff are offered the opportunity [to] pick up shifts."
In an interview with CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin on Thursday, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King reaffirmed his government's commitment to Prince County Hospital and to filling staff vacancies there.
"I want nothing more than for that hospital to be fully functional, to be the very best that it can be," he said.
'I want nothing more than for that hospital to be fully functional,' Premier Dennis King told CBC News in an interview Thursday. (CBC)
"I have all the money in the world to put into it. If that's what it takes, we will make sure it runs, it operates," said King. "But there are challenges we're dealing with right now. We have to understand those realities."
How did we get here?
This is just the latest development for Prince County Hospital, or PCH, over the last year.
It all started back in the spring of 2023 when Health P.E.I. announced changes to the hospital's intensive care unit. The ICU was downgraded into what is known in health circles as a progressive-care unit (or PCU) due to staffing shortages.
An ICU needs to have internal medicine specialists around the clock, but the Summerside hospital didn't have the bodies to make that possible. PCUs require only family doctors, hospitalists and nursing staff to run.
So, for almost a year now, patients who need intensive care are taken to the QEH in Charlottetown, about a 60-kilometre drive from Summerside.
What's happening now?
Earlier this month, Health P.E.I. said it might have to cut service at the Summerside PCU or even shut it down temporarily because now there aren't enough people to staff it either.
Last Thursday, 42 doctors with the East Prince Medical Staff Association signed an open letter declaring an emergency at the Prince County Hospital.
At the time, Health P.E.I. said rebuilding the progressive-care unit was a priority. Now comes the news that the PCH's unit is being cut from eight beds to four, until further notice.
What comes next?
All of this has caused a lot of worry from other health providers and people who live in the area.
Summerside Mayor Dan Kutcher has spoken out, saying the lives of the city's residents are at risk without a functioning intensive-care unit.
The city has organized a town hall about the future of the PCH for next Thursday, Feb. 1. Kutcher has called on provincial Health Minister Mark McLane to attend.