Health P.E.I.’s CEO has submitted his resignation and plans to leave the role effective March 29.
Dr. Michael Gardam says he gave his notice of resignation to the Health P.E.I. board of directors on Friday, citing personal reasons including wanting to be closer to his family.
“It’s been a long three years,” Gardam said in an interview with CBC’s Maritime Noon Monday.
“Not only did we go through COVID here, but we also went through Hurricane Fiona, and we’re facing the worst health human resources crisis the country has ever seen. And so that does that does wear you down.”
In his resignation letter, Gardam said that while there will be challenges in the coming months, Health P.E.I. is still going in the “right direction.”
“For the next nine months, my plan is to continue just as I have since I started here in 2020 — making changes to the system to support staff, building resilient healthcare services for Islanders, and being open and honest with our challenges and our areas of excellence,” the letter reads.
In P.E.I. we made it very difficult to make change with, frankly, far too many cooks stirring the pot.– Dr. Michael Gardam, Health P.E.I. CEO
Gardam previously served as chief operating officer of Health P.E.I.
Before moving to the Island in late 2020, he was chief of staff at Humber River Hospital in Toronto.
Gardam said that when he arrived on the Island, he was struck by how “needlessly complex” P.E.I.’s health-care system was.
“Health-care systems are always complex, but in P.E.I. we made it very difficult to make change with, frankly, far too many cooks stirring the pot,” Gardam said.
“We’ve made a lot of changes to that, to make us be able to move things quicker.”
Still work to be done
Gardam served as interim CEO after former head Denise Lewis Fleming stepped down. He took on the permanent role in late 2021.
P.E.I.’s health-care system has faced numerous struggles during Gardam’s tenure: rural hospitals have faced repeated ER closures, while Island doctors have warned of a system collapse if urgent action is not taken.
The number of Islanders waiting for a family doctor has risen to more than 30,000.
In his resignation letter, Gardam highlighted some of the work done during his tenure, such as negotiating collective agreements with health-care workers, growing the number of medical homes across the province, and cutting red tape to make hiring new staff easier.
Patient medical homes were first announced by the government in 2021 and touted as a key strategy to get Islanders off the patient registry. The homes provide a wide range of care generally in one location.
Although about a dozen medical homes are up and running or in the developing stages on P.E.I., they have yet to make a dent in the registry.
In his letter, Gardam said there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“We need to recruit many, many people and integrate new professionals such as physician assistants, midwives, and associate physicians. And we need to work with UPEI to ensure the health-care system is ready to be a welcoming partner when the first medical students arrive,” the letter reads.
“Those are just a few priorities out of a huge list of priorities. But we are checking things off the list every day. We are constantly progressing and, whether or not that progress is evident yet to Islanders receiving services, it is making a difference.”
‘We just simply are not in the driver’s seat’
In the interview with Maritime Noon, Gardam said P.E.I. must focus on attracting primary care physicians.
“Historically, family doctors and in particular primary care has never been something that’s, you know, been hugely valued, and yet it is the cornerstone of our health-care system here,” he said.
Gardam said the province must re-evaluate its physician resource planning committee, which currently has to meet to approve each new doctor hired on the Island.
Health P.E.I. had urged the province to get rid of the committee, but a bill to do so was pulled in the legislature in late 2022 due to concerns from opposition parties.
“We just simply are not in the driver’s seat right now,” Gardam said.
“We have to be able to make it as open as possible for doctors to want to work on the Island, wherever it is they want to work.”
Gardam said he hopes the bill concerning the planning committee will return to the legislature this fall.
Backlash over Summerside ICU transition
Earlier this year, Gardam faced some backlash over the decision to close Prince County Hospital’s intensive care unit.
Staff at the Summerside hospital criticized comments by the CEO on the level of care provided at the unit, including that it wasn’t “set up to be a really big sick patient ICU.” Gardam later apologized.
Gardam said PCH had a few internists leave the hospital, and that others were no longer willing to cover the ICU as much as they did before.
“One of our challenges is that P.E.I. relies on jack-of-all-trades physicians,” he said.
“We’re not really graduating those people anymore. People tend to be more and more focused in one particular area.”
He said his biggest concern is that the province may not be able to recruit doctors who want to cover the ICU. But so far the transfer of ICU patients to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital hasn’t caused major impact, he said.
‘Quite a public figure’
Health P.E.I. board chair Diane Griffin said the organization has not yet discussed succession plans.
“I know Dr. Gardam has really moved the yardsticks for us in our system here, but there’s still more work to do, and he’d be the first to acknowledge that,” Griffin told CBC News.
Griffin said Gardam’s timeline gives the board time plenty of time to search for a successor.
‘Let’s be totally honest here’ is his motto.– Diane Griffin, Health P.E.I. board chair
“I suspect the person we’re looking for is already employed and doing a great job somewhere else.”
She said Gardam’s contributions to the Island will be missed, referencing in particular his work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“He’s been quite a public figure, and he believes in the public knowing what’s going on. ‘Let’s be totally honest here’ is his motto,” Griffin said.