Nurses’ Union disappointed with unanswered questions surrounding proposed changes to Home Care services and increased funding to a Private Corporation

By Mona O’Shea, President of the PEI Nurses’ Union

As President of the PEI Nurses’ Union, I represent over 1,200 Registered Nurses and Nurse Practitioners employed in our public health care system, many of whom work in the Provincial Home Care program.  The recent move by the provincial government to use federal tax dollars to contract with a private company for increased home care service supports has raised many unanswered questions and numerous concerns.

After waiting several months to find out the details about the proposed “new” Home Care initiatives, Home Care staff were given broad details last week. Of the $750,000 in new federal funding allotted for community-based services, $450,000 is earmarked for three “new” Home Care initiatives, all involving the addition of paramedical services offered by a privately owned corporation, Island EMS, a subsidiary of Medavie Health Services. Island EMS employs all paramedics working in PEI.  Paramedics are not employees of Health PEI.  They are employed by a “for profit” private sector company. 

The Union is questioning government’s comment that these are three “new” initiatives being launched with the support of public federal tax dollars. In actuality, two of the initiatives referenced are expansions of earlier pilot projects using privately employed paramedics. These expansions, namely the Integrated Palliative Care program and the Seniors Check-In program, were launched in the past few years. The only “new” government initiative, from the perspective of the Union and front line Registered Nurses, is a new practice which will see paramedics transport patients home from emergency rooms.

It is extremely unfortunate that government and Health PEI did not consult with their own front line employees to explore ideas for the creation of truly new and innovative initiatives. Home Care Registered Nurses see many ways these federal dollars could have been used internally to support and improve service delivery, in new ways, that would have met federal funding guidelines. Instead, $450,000 of public funds are being given to a private, profit-driven company, opening the door to further privatization of health care services.

Some of the unanswered questions that surround these initiatives relate to how they will integrate with and support current Home Care services. While the Union supports the idea of service enhancements that will both benefit Islanders and reduce burdens on other services within the system, we question how these “new” initiatives will be more efficient or actually improve the overall health of Islanders.

There are also many unanswered questions in regards to possible system communication gaps between Health PEI staff and Island EMS. Currently, Island EMS does not have access to internal patient records. Our Registered Nurses are concerned that gaps in communications may impact continuity of care, increase fragmentation and potentially duplicate existing services. Had this funding been utilized internally by Health PEI, the potential for these issues would not exist.

With the expansion of private sector involvement in PEI’s public health system, we hope the changes that are coming will not create new and unnecessary roadblocks in service delivery.  Our members regularly collaborate with numerous health care providers, and will continue to do so, in order to provide the best care possible for their clients. The real issue is about how to support and maintain a strong public health care system that provides seamless collaboration among healthcare providers, so that services are delivered in a safe, efficient and effective way.  The PEI Nurses’ Union does not believe the deal between the province and Medavie supports this ultimate goal.