PEI Dental Practices face staffing issues and appointment backlogs

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An Island-wide staffing shortage at dental clinics is causing a backlog of appointments and forcing some PEI patients to wait months for care.

“As with any part of health care, everyone is looking for someone to help them,” said Dr. Brian Barrett, CEO of the PEI Dental Association.

He said key positions such as dental assistants and hygienists are “vital” for practices to perform all of their duties.

But understaffing leaves some dentists to do the work alone, impacting patients whose appointments are canceled or rescheduled.

Consequences of the pandemic

Barrett said part of the problem is the pandemic since many dental assistants and hygienists have changed their hours to part-time, leaving clinics in a situation where more shifts are needed to fill the week.

He said another pandemic-related factor has been dealing with the fallout of missed appointments when dentists have had to close their practices.

Dr. Brian Barrett, executive director of the PEI Dental Association, said key positions like dental assistants or hygienists are “vital” for practices to fulfill the full range of functions – from preparing the clinic to assisting with dental procedures. (Michel Euler/Associated Press)

“When things go back, it’s really hard to catch up again,” Barrett said.

“There’s nowhere to put people who canceled or didn’t show up except, oh, seven or eight weeks…maybe a few months.”

Jessica Vancolen, secretary of the PEI Dental Hygienists Association and a registered dental hygienist, said this ultimately leads to a backlog of appointments – a mix of patients who were discharged at a later date and patients who were booked for that time. .

With the added challenge of workers leaving the practice or moving to another office, she said routine appointments that would normally be scheduled every six months are now booked up to 10 months in advance.

Recruitment and retention

There are no institutions in Prince Edward Island that offer dental hygienist training for people who want to work in the field, and Vancolen said that’s a barrier to hiring. and retention of staff.

“You either have to go to the nearest place [which] would be Moncton or Halifax, so a lot of people — they’ll go to those places and maybe decide, ‘Oh, I like it here’ and they’ll stay,” she said.

Vancolen said more incentives, like paying off student loans for people returning to the island, could help entice those people to potentially become staff members and help with workloads.

Jessica Vancolen, association secretary and certified dental hygienist, says part of the problem is the lack of opportunities on PEI to train staff and keep them on the island after the graduation. (Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images)

The Canadian Dental Association says labor shortages are not isolated to Prince Edward Island, but are a nationwide problem that has been difficult before and after the pandemic.

In a statement to CBC News, the association said: “Combined, the current workforce challenges, changes in patient management and the increased number of patients returning to their dental homes for care result in dental appointments being scheduled or postponed later.”

He said other factors affecting appointment backlogs, including early retirements, may vary from province to province.

CDA said it has renewed its collaboration with the Canadian Dental Assistants Association to develop a project called Building the Dental Assisting Professional Workforce of the Future, aimed at helping dental dental practices with wellness resources and action plans to address labor mobility and immigrant integration. in the workforce.

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