A report predicting that PEI will need to hire more than 2,000 new health-care workers in the next decade comes as no surprise to those who work in and study health care in Canada.
The report, commissioned by the province in 2021, suggests that between creating new positions to support population growth and replacing those who retire or leave, the Island will need to hire at least 2,066 new workers.
While the desperate need for health-care workers in the province isn’t new, the report provides the exact numbers needed for all positions across the system — data that Health PEI CEO Dr. Michael Gardam, said is crucial.
“This allows us to be much more thoughtful in who we are bringing on,” he said.
“It also reminds us that we can’t stop for a second in terms of recruitment because there are so many people we need to bring on board.”
The report’s recommendations include looking at health services across the province rather than by region, advising “core services be adjusted based on population need.”
It’s something Gardam believes is necessary, but he adds that doesn’t mean centralizing services or dismantling rural health care.
“As long as we keep thinking regionally, we are never going to get out of the mess that we’re in. We have to be thinking provincially: How does this help the Island?” Gardam said.
“Not just what’s best for my little town. Because what’s best for your town might come at a great cost to the rest of the Island, so we have to think that way.”
Better data, better planning
Ivy Bourgeault, a professor of sociology at the University of Ottawa who has studied the Canadian health-care workforce, said the perpetual worker shortages are a direct result of a lack of planning.
She said data collection on the workforce and worker retention needs to be consistent across the country.
“Then we are able to develop robust tools so that we can do much more predictive planning, so we’re not only reacting to crises, but we’re being much more proactive,” he said.
“So we know and we feel there are shortages. Where are the shortages most acute? What would be the best way to solve those shortages?”
The report indicates PEI will need to hire 200 doctors, including family physicians; hundreds of allied health professionals such as social workers and physical therapists; as well as 500 LPNs, RNs and nurse practitioners.
Sylvain Brosseau with the Canadian Nurses Association said retention is a huge problem, and better working conditions would help.
“To retain, you must know what is the issue. And you must act. You must invest in current workforce – you want to keep them,” he said.
“It’s not sustainable for having a health-care system that’s always understaffed.”
PEI Nurses’ Union president Barbara Brookins said the province needs to look at how it’s recruiting and retaining nurses if it hopes to hit that goal of 500 new hires.
“We’re going to have to change the way we’re doing it, that’s for sure,” she said.
“They’re really going to have to work together to look at how they’re going to get nurses trained to be out in that time frame.”
Brookins said retention is a challenge in an industry with high burnout rates. But she’s hopeful progress is being made.
“I think we’re still going to have shortages … [but] it’s being acknowledged now, which it hasn’t been in the last 10 years, even though we’ve been yelling that there are shortages.”
The study was commissioned at the end of 2021, which means the actual need for workers will likely be even higher given PEI’s population growth over the last two years.
Either way, Gardam said, the message is clear.
“It maps out in elaborate detail what exactly we need — and it’s staggering,” he said.
“We have to hire a ton of people. That’s my summary of that report.”