CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —
Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly says families of dementia patients, currently housed in the Unit 9 psychiatric unit at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, are “suffering in silence”.
During question period in the P.E.I. legislature on Friday, McNeilly pressed Health Minister Ernie Hudson to offer a timeline for when long-term care beds will be available for the seven geriatric patients.
After psychiatric patients were moved from Unit 9 to a psychiatric urgent care clinic at Hillsborough Hospital early in the COVID-19 pandemic, dementia patients were moved into the unit.
But almost a year later, these patients are still in Unit 9. This has reduced the number of beds open to emergency psychiatric patients.
McNeilly said the situation is less than ideal for the geriatric patients as well.
“I have spoken with families who have expressed concern regarding the hygiene standards being maintained for vulnerable dementia patients, robbing them of the dignity that they deserve,” McNeilly told the legislature.
“We also are told that there is no planned programming for dementia patients at this Unit 9 facility, something specialized dementia care facilities would contain. These families are suffering in silence.”
Hudson said he has met with operators of a private community care facility that is developing programs for individuals in early stages of dementia. But he acknowledged that staff shortages have reduced the number of available beds.
“We could build x number of facilities, additional beds – (but) if we can’t staff them, then what is the point of doing that?” Hudson told the legislature.
“We have to work collaboratively, we have to look what has to be done and then move forward to get the job done.”
Of the 20 beds within Unit 9, seven are available for psychiatric patients, and seven are available for dementia patients. The remaining six beds are vacant because of staff shortages within the QEH, Hudson told The Guardian.
At present, a temporary wall within the unit separates the two areas.
The province has looked into moving the seven patients into the Prince Edward Home after having already moved 12 others to the facility. But McNeilly said the increasing number of dementia patients has reduced the capacity of the facility for restorative care patients, meaning those who no longer need intensive rehabilitation.
“We know restorative care at PE Home has been basically gutted,” McNeilly said.
“While I fully support providing dementia patients with a better facility, we must also maintain the important restorative care services.”
In an interview, McNeilly said the shortage of restorative care beds at Prince Edward Home is evidence of a lack of long-term planning for seniors and for long-term care in P.E.I.
“We need over 300 beds in the next four to five years just to maintain (what we’re doing) right now,” he said.
In an interview, Hudson acknowledged there are gaps in P.E.I.’s system of long-term care. But he said the biggest gap is a lack of staff within long-term care facilities.
This means that beds for the dementia patients in Unit 9, a unit that ought to be a core component of the mental health system in P.E.I., have been reduced.
“It’s a fact of life, a sad one, that before a bed becomes available in a long-term care facility, it means that, for the most part, somebody’s loved one passes,” Hudson said.
Hudson said directors within Health P.E.I. are working to find placements for the dementia patients within Unit 9.
But he said the province needs to address shortages of both nurses and resident care workers.
The current operating budget, which is being debated on the floor of the legislature, contains a five-year $5 million fund to recruit licensed practical nurses, registered nurses and nurse practitioners.