Not getting ‘pounded’ by emergency department has let this rural P.E.I. hospital flourish

A physician in Western P.E.I. says closing O’Leary’s emergency department has given hospital staff the freedom they need to provide a host of new services for the region.

Dr. Gil Grimes, a family doctor at Community Hospital O’Leary, admits it’s not what he would have predicted back in 2008.

That’s when provincial government officials removed emergency and outpatient services at the hospital, centralizing those services at the nearby Western Hospital in Alberton. 

“Not having the emergency room gives us a lot of freedom in here to do different things,” Grimes said this week.

“The whole reason we have the palliative unit, the whole reason we can do such excellent restorative and rehabilitative care, is because we’re not constantly getting pounded by the emergency department.” 

‘Valued by the community’

Grimes moved to P.E.I. from Texas, after seeing a quarter-page ad in a magazine. He said if the hospital were still trying to staff an emergency department, he doesn’t believe it would have the services it has today. 

A brick walkway leads into the front doors of a rural hospital.
In 2008, government officials shut down the emergency and outpatient services at Community Hospital O’Leary. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

“Having said that, it was a loss to lose the emergency department because it was something that was really incredibly valued by the community,” he said.

While not having an emergency department or an outpatient program, Community Hospital O’Leary does have a host of services, including 11 medical beds for patients from across the province looking to get back on their feet from surgery or a major health setback.

The facility provides physiotherapy, occupational therapy, rehab, public health, and homecare services. There is also a full lab and X-ray service. 

We really try to limit the kind of people we take so that we don’t take people who are too sick to be here.— Dr. Gil Grimes

The palliative care wing, the only other designated palliative care centre outside of Charlottetown’s, can accommodate up to four people at a time. 

The building also houses a long-term care facility and a medical centre. 

‘We probably wouldn’t admit you’

“At O’Leary, we really try to limit the kind of people we take so that we don’t take people who are too sick to be here,” said Grimes.

“So, if you are someone who was sick enough that had, I don’t know, say a 50 or 60 per cent chance of needing to go to the intensive care unit or the progressive care unit, we’d probably wouldn’t admit you, because you need to be someplace where you can get to those units more quickly.” 

A nurse in a red shirt stands in the centre of a long hallway.
Colleen Bannon, nurse manager for the small hospital in O’Leary, says they do provide just about everything under one roof. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

Colleen Bannon, the nurse manager at Community Hospital O’Leary, agrees with Grimes that the decision to close the emergency department allowed the staff to concentrate on what it can do really well. 

While not officially designated as a medical neighbourhood, a model that the province is rolling out across the Island, Bannon said they do provide just about everything under one roof. 

The hospital’s staffing is a sign of its success, she said. Unlike most other facilities across P.E.I., “I’m in a really good position, that I don’t have any vacancies,” said Bannon.

One nurse is retiring this fall but otherwise the hospital has a full complement of nurses. 

Staff come and ‘don’t leave’

Two doctors cover the hospital, with a third expected to join the team this fall.   

“We have staff that come here and they don’t leave because it is such a supportive, nurturing, satisfying place to work,” she said. 

A hospital sign directs patients to various wings of the hospital.
Just some of the services provided at Community Hospital O’Leary. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

Bannon said not every patient is happy to be transferred from one of the Island’s two major hospitals, in Charlottetown and Summerside, to be cared for in O’Leary. But she said that frees up a bed for a more urgent patient in the city hospitals and allows the transferred patient to get more personalized care in a smaller facility.

“We welcome them with open arms and we will take good care of them,” she said. 

‘Gave us a sense of family’

Anthony Millar of Tyne Valley has seen that first-hand.

Man in a black shirt and baseball cap stands in the hospital palliative care wing.
Anthony Millar of Tyne Valley has nothing but good to say about care at the O’Leary hospital. His dad, Erland, was transferred to the hospital’s palliative care centre in March. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

After living with cancer for five years, his dad Erland was transferred to the hospital’s palliative care centre in March before passing away a month later at the age of 64. 

“The unit itself gave us a sense of family. A lot of the nurses, I knew some of them previously from just around the community,” said Millar.   

“When Dad passed away, a lot of them reached out to us, you know, to continue to talk, even just coming in to give my mom a hug once in a while. Just providing the extra care that you may not get in bigger centres.” 

What goes on in this facility, I think, is kinda the best magic that medicine can do.— Dr. Gil Grimes

Grimes said he believes Community Hospital O’Leary is a success story in an otherwise challenging health care system.

“What goes on in this facility, I think, is kinda the best magic that medicine can do,” said Grimes.

“I mean, I come to work every day excited to come to work. I love what I do.”


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