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P.E.I.’s new health minister lays out priorities

Last week, Ernie Hudson was sworn in as P.E.I.’s new health minister, one of the most challenging portfolios in provincial government.

‘Whether it’s COVID, whether it’s in any files, we have to rely on the experts.’ (Ken Linton/CBC)

Last week, Ernie Hudson was sworn in as P.E.I.’s new health minister, one of the most challenging portfolios in provincial government.

He spoke with the CBC’s Wayne Thibodeau this week about his priorities in the portfolio. This interview has been edited for length.

How does it feel to be minister of health?

It’s certainly going to bring about some challenges, I’m sure of that.

A number of years ago, as you very well may recall, I was director on the board of directors of West Prince Health and then subsequent to that, chaired the board of West Prince Health. So I certainly have had exposure to the health-care system.

Obviously it’s a portfolio that is extremely important, extremely important to each and every Islander, because, you know, at some point in time, all of us are going to need the health-care system in one way, shape or form.

What was your reaction when the premier called you up and said, ‘Hey, I want you to be my health minister?’

“I’d be honoured to,” was my reaction. No hesitation whatsoever.

How would you describe your government’s record on the health file? 

There’s been movement on a number of different issues; certainly front and centre has been mental health and addictions. And I know that there’s still work, still a substantial amount of work, to be done there. But I do have to say that our government and [former health] minister [James] Aylward has provided a pretty strong foundation for me to build upon.

You mentioned Minister Aylward. If there was any criticism, it was that he had a low profile as health minister. Do you expect that to change?

At the end of the day, regardless of whether I have a low profile or whether I have a high profile, my focus, my goal, is to do the best that I can to ensure that Islanders have — and right across the board, whether it’s primary care, whether it’s mental health, whether it’s addictions, whether it’s long-term care — that Islanders have the very best service that we can provide. And if that results in me having a higher profile or a low profile, it really doesn’t matter to me.

What priorities do you bring to this job?

The pandemic, COVID-19, we have done quite well. Going forward, we’re in the process of rolling out the vaccine at this point in time. But front and centre has to be to continue to keep Islanders safe.

Over and above that, though, yes, we have to continue to build upon the work that has been done with regard to mental health and addictions. You know, primary care, I think, right across the province is extremely important. Seniors’ care, whether that’s home care or long-term care — we owe it to our seniors that have provided so much for us on the Island to provide for them in their senior years.

Do you see the province’s approach to the pandemic changing now that you’re head of the health file?

I would have to say no. I think that we have had great leadership.

Whether it’s COVID, whether it’s in any files, we have to rely on the experts. We have done this to this point in time. It has served us extremely well. And it’s like, I guess the old saying, “If it’s not broke, why do I have to fix it?”

What needs to happen to improve Islanders’ access to mental health services? 

I’ve been in this position for all of, what, about five days now, [and am] in the process of having briefings, obviously in a number of different files. I think it would be premature for me at this point in time to say: “This is absolutely what has to happen” or absolutely that “we can’t do this.”

I would like to think coming into the position here as minister of health and wellness, that one of the things that I am going to bring is an open-mindedness. And I want to listen to advocates. I want to listen to the professionals and move forward on it.

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