Health P.E.I. looks for guarantees after N.B. hospital cuts off Island cardiac patients ‘without warning’


Health P.E.I says formalized agreements with health authorities in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have become an even more urgent priority after the Saint John Regional Hospital refused to accept cardiac patients from the Island last weekend.

P.E.I. has no cardiac specialist services and sends patients needing that kind of advanced medical care to Saint John and Halifax.

Halifax was still able to take Island patients when Saint John couldn’t over the weekend, but Nova Scotia’s health-care system is also stretched. Its health authority recently told Health P.E.I. it would have to stop accepting P.E.I.’s non-urgent vascular referrals. 

On Wednesday, Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Michael Gardam told CBC News that doctors everywhere are “tired” and struggling to keep up, but said it was “not acceptable” that a system would refuse to accept patients from this province.

“We have to figure out something that is permanent which guarantees us access,” he said. “As a former cardiac patient myself, I can tell you you need to have access to cardiac services or people are going to be really injured. They could potentially die.”

Janine Doucet, the administrative director of the New Brunswick Heart Centre, said officials there contacted Health P.E.I. about “potential concerns” about not being able to take new transfers over the Remembrance Day long weekend, suggesting that patients with ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI) be referred to the Maritime Heart Centre in Nova Scotia. 

“All other transfers to the NBHC continued as planned,” she said in an email to CBC News. “The matter was resolved with no patient impacts, and the NBHC is currently accepting STEMI transfers from Prince Edward Island as normal.” 

Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Michael Gardam sitting at desk.
Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Michael Gardam says as a former cardiac patient, he understands the importance of access to specialist services. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The short disruption pointed to a need to have an “umbrella agreement” for out-of-province services, Health P.E.I. chief medical officer Dr. Kathie McNally wrote in a letter to staff.

We cannot continue to negotiate access to [out-of-province] limb- and life-saving health-care services patient by patient, physician by physician or service by service.— Dr. Kathie McNally

“We cannot continue to negotiate access to [out-of-province] limb- and life-saving health-care services patient by patient, physician by physician or service by service.”

The letter said the decision from Saint John “was made without warning and without discussion,” and since the morning of Nov. 11, “there have been many discussions with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick at all levels of the health-care system and government.”

Most patients sent to Halifax

P.E.I. relies on neighbourIng provinces to provide services unavailable on the Island. Health P.E.I. said it paid $47 million for all out-of-province services in 2022-23. That consisted of approximately $27.5 million in inpatient services, $7 million in outpatient services and $12.5 million in physician fees.

Big heart shaped sign outside hospital.
Many cardiac patients from P.E.I. are sent to the New Brunswick Heart Centre at the Saint John Regional Hospital to receive specialized care. (CBC)

Most of the patients are being sent to the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre and IWK Health Centre in Halifax, followed by the Moncton General Hospital and Saint John Regional Hospital.

Angie MacCaull, who used out-of-province health services during her triple bypass surgery five years ago, said the situation is unsettling. 

“I think it’s quite disturbing, actually. We need help, the support of Saint John and Halifax. We don’t have those services in Prince Edward Island — and as Canadians, we should at least have access to it.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *