Health minister wants off-Island contracts set in stone, after N.B. cuts off P.E.I. cardiac patients

The COVID-19 pandemic has crunched resources in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia as well as in P.E.I. That's led to concerns Islanders' access to care in neighbouring provinces will be compromised. (Shutterstock - image credit)
The COVID-19 pandemic has crunched resources in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia as well as in P.E.I. That's led to concerns Islanders' access to care in neighbouring provinces will be compromised. (Shutterstock - image credit)

Prince Edward Island's health minister says he wants formalized agreements signed quickly with health authorities in other provinces so Islanders can get guaranteed access to out-of-province care.

This comes after Saint John Regional Hospital (SJRH) in New Brunswick refused to accept cardiac patients from the Island last weekend — a decision that Health P.E.I.'s chief medical officer says took staff by surprise and "was made without warning and without discussion."

During question period Thursday, Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly asked Health Minister Mark McLane when Islanders will see the signed agreements that Health P.E.I. has been searching for some time now.

"How close are we to signing any type of formal contracts? Because there's not much out there right now," McNeilly said.

"We need to know, and we need to get going now."

McLane said a lot of work is being done to make those deals happen.

Health Minister Mark McLane says he made a courtesy call to his counterparts in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia this past weekend after Saint John Regional Hospital refused Island cardiac patients.
Health Minister Mark McLane says he made a courtesy call to his counterparts in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia this past weekend after Saint John Regional Hospital refused Island cardiac patients.

Health Minister Mark McLane says he made a courtesy call to his counterparts in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia this weekend. ( Aaron Adetuyi/CBC)

"Dr. Gardam has been pretty clear about the need for formal contracts. Again, times are shifting, so we do need some
obligations in writing," he said.

'Everybody agrees we need to do this,' minister says

Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Michael Gardam told a legislative committee last month the agency had been working toward formal agreements that would guarantee specialized health services the Island is unable to provide on its own.

Gardam said the COVID-19 pandemic has crunched health-care resources across Canada, and that's led to concerns Island patients' access to off-Island care would be compromised.

He referred to P.E.I.'s historical dependence on its neighbours for health care as relying on the "kindness of strangers."

That kindness isn't free, though, as Health P.E.I. annually spends tens of millions for out-of-province services. According to Health P.E.I.'s annual report released this week, the agency spent $47 million in off-Island health care in 2022-2023.

They have capacity issues like us. I think we just need to manage capacity as a group. — Mark McLane

P.E.I. does have understandings on pediatric care with the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, and on cardiac help with the Saint John Regional Hospital.

McLane said he wants those obligations in writing.

After question period, the minister told CBC News he made a "courtesy call" to his counterparts in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia this weekend.

McLane said he discussed the Saint John Regional Hospital's patient refusal and that he made sure "they're aware of the seriousness of the issue."

"[There is a] little sense of urgency to formalize the agreements. I think everybody agrees we need to do this," McLane added, though he couldn't say when those agreements would be signed.

"They have capacity issues like us. I think we just need to manage capacity as a group. We'll let those operational experts have those discussions."