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October 5, 2004
For immediate release

Closure of Emergency Department Services at Stewart Memorial Hospital

Health and Social Services

Chester Gillan, Minister of Health and Social Services, announced today that 24-hour emergency department services at Stewart Memorial Hospital in Tyne Valley will close indefinitely effective 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, October 7, 2004.

“The overriding principle in the Health and Community Services Act is an obligatory responsibility of the Minister of Health and Social Services to ensure the provision of essential health and community services in the province. Implicit in this provision is that I, as Minister, have a responsibility to ensure the delivery of safe services. I have reviewed the recommendations of the Report of the Canadian Council of Health Services Accreditation and analyzed their implications. The high level of risk and potential liability associated with the Emergency Department at Stewart Memorial Hospital is significant. In addition, I have also considered the physician on-call coverage requirements and the ability to recruit and retain health practitioners to the hospital and community under the current structure. After careful consideration of all of these factors and in the interests of patient safety and long-term delivery of medical services to the area, I see no alternative except to close the emergency service at Stewart Memorial Hospital,” said Minister Gillan.

In recommending that the site designation of Stewart Memorial Hospital as an acute care hospital with emergency status be reviewed due to the many safety concerns, the Accreditation Report stated that the current situation poses a serious risk to the organization (East Prince Health) and the potential for failure to respond appropriately to a crisis and emergency situation. “Matters pertaining to safety and risk can not be simply remedied. Training and certification for physicians and nurses in critical areas of emergency medicine is crucial. It is very difficult to maintain these skill levels due to the low volume of cases presenting themselves at Stewart Memorial Hospital emergency department,” cautioned Minister Gillan. The low utilization rate is not likely to change.

“An organization that cannot meet national standards is at great risk of litigation in the event any type of incident occurs within the service,” said the Minister. “If East Prince Health is unable to meet the national standard, it risks losing its accreditation.”

The second factor that was considered involves standards for on-call coverage in the Physician Master Agreement which permits, unless a physician agrees otherwise, physicians to be on-call a maximum of 10 days a month, one-third of the days being weekends. This standard is based on safe practices. “At Stewart Memorial Hospital, the two physicians are on-call 15 days a month, including every second weekend, and at times, when one physician is on vacation, the remaining physician is on-call for the entire period,” said Minister Gillan. “Notwithstanding what has occurred over the past few years and the physicians’ consent to this one-in-two, on-call coverage, I view this practice as unsafe and unsustainable in the long run.”

The ability to recruit health practitioners for eventual replacement of existing staff will be greatly affected unless the model of service delivery is changed at Stewart Memorial Hospital. “Unless change occurs, the long-term viability of the hospital and delivery of medical services would be jeopardized,” stated Gillan. “The closure of the Emergency Department signifies that the time has come to build a model of service delivery in the Tyne Valley area that will attract and retain health professionals in the future and meet the needs of the residents of the community.”

“I know that the community will find this a difficult decision. However, as Minister of Health and Social Services, I am obligated to provide safe and appropriate health services to the citizens of the province,” emphasized Minister Gillan, “and I have a responsibility to lay the groundwork to ensure the future delivery of health services. The easier decision would have been to continue with the current services at Stewart Memorial Hospital and not close the emergency department. However, I believe this would have been an irresponsible decision on my part, and it would immediately jeopardize the remaining services of the community, and the long-term needs, such as the ability to recruit health care professionals.”

“This decision was not made lightly,” said Gillan, “I recognize and commend the commitment and efforts made by the East Prince Health Board, the staff at Stewart Memorial Hospital and the community at large to provide health care services in their community.”

The Minister reiterated that Government is committed to retaining the hospital facility in the community. All services currently provided at Stewart Memorial Hospital, with the exception of emergency services, will remain in operation. “I look forward to working with the community in building on the existing services and developing a model for health service delivery for the residents of the Tyne Valley area which meets the needs of the community in a safe and appropriate manner, now and into the future,” stated Minister Gillan.

Media Contact: Anne-Marie Smith
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