President Ward on Health PEI

(Posted July 22, 2011)

Leo Steven, the chair of Health PEI, recently wrote a letter entitled “Health PEI completes first successful year of operation.”   The letter itself talks about health care in PEI at a high level and for the most part avoids the challenges that frontline staff face on a day-to-day to basis. One of these challenges is understaffing. The union hears from members regularly about not being able to take time off because of staff shortages, whether we are talking about nurses, social workers or speech language pathologists.  This creates tension within the system as all employees, no matter what profession, require time off to recharge their batteries and return to work energized.  After all, the frontline health care workers are the ones providing care and treatment for Islanders every day. 

In regard to the new model of care, the union thinks that Health PEI is on the right track in the sense that the model aims to ensure patients receive quality health care from the best mix of qualified health providers. The  government made the right decision to implement the full scope of practice for Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) on Prince Edward Island. Before this, LPNs were not permitted to provide the full range of services that many of them were trained and qualified to deliver. And it is in everyone’s best interest, whether it is the patient or the employer, that health care providers are fully utilized in accordance with their training and capabilities. However, the union’s concern with the new model of care is directed at the planning and implementation of the model itself.  Government has not done their homework in determining staffing needed to successfully launch the new model.  These requirements include necessary education upgrades for LPNs and there have been problems in regard to the availability, access, cost and timelines for this education. Health PEI also should recognize the need to create standardized education for Resident Care Workers (RCWs) in the province.  RCWs in Prince Edward Island are not provided with a consistent training program.  There are four training sites in the province and they do not all share a standardized Resident Care Worker curriculum. 

Health PEI needs to focus more on the people providing health care to Islanders and less on creating the illusion that there aren’t significant human resource challenges. The board needs to focus on creating sustainable recruitment and retention within the health care system.  LPNs require financial support, flexible educational opportunities and sufficient time to complete their necessary upgrades; and RCWs need a standard program of study in PEI and legislation that will include regulations for RCW core competencies.