Its disastrous: Communities uneasy about losing overnight ERs

If Ron Corbett hadn’t gone to the emergency room in Sackville, he says he would’ve died.

Corbett had low blood pressure and was losing a lot of blood when he was sent to the emergency department at Sackville Memorial Hospital. There, he received the treatments he needed and was later sent to the hospital in Moncton.

“One of the reasons why I was able to do OK once I got to Moncton, was that they treated me here,” he said Tuesday after the province announced it would shut down the Sackville ER overnight. 

Residents in six New Brunswick communities were reeling after learning emergency room hours at their local hospitals will be cut and local hospital beds will be converted to long-term care beds.

Saying the steps are necessary because of staff shortages, the province announced the six emergency rooms will stop accepting patients after 10 p.m. and close from midnight to 8 a.m. The reduced hours start March 11.

Sackville, one of the communities to see ab ER cut, will also lose its surgical services.  

Corbett said residents in the area are getting older and emergency services are “crucial.”

“I think it sucks …  I think it’s disastrous,” he said or the plan announced by the Progressive Conservative government and the two health networks. 

‘It doesn’t make sense’ 

Sarah Poirier remembers one night shortly after 11, she and her husband fell off a roof and had to get to the ER in Sackville. Poirier said her husband’s memory was seriously affected.

Horizon Health Network CEO Karen McGrath, Health Minister Ted Flemming and Vitalité Health Network CEO Gilles Lanteigne announce cuts to ER operating hours at six hospitals in New Brunswick. ( Poitras/CBC)

“Emergencies happen 24 hours a day,” she said.

Poirier wasn’t impressed by Monday’s announcement. 

“It penalizes people for living in rural areas,” she said.

With the changes, Sackville residents will need to drive almost 50 kilometres to an emergency room in Moncton or 16 minutes to Amherst in Nova Scotia.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Poirier said. “Is the premier trying to drive New Brunswickers across the border to Nova Scotia and make it somebody else’s problem?”

No consultation with town

Sackville Mayor John Higham participated in strategic planning sessions put on by Horizon Health Network last week and the planned cuts to the ER and surgical services were not mentioned. 

Sackville Mayor John Higham said many parents sent their children to Mount Allison University in Sackville because of the nearby hospital and its services. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

“If there’s a strategic element, we didn’t see it,” he said. “We haven’t heard it.”

After hearing talk of possible cuts, Sackville council held a meeting Monday night, and drew a crowd of concerned residents. 

He’s lined up a meeting with Horizon Health Network CEO Karen McGrath this week to ask questions.

Chris Goodyear, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, said changes to the health-care system are always a source of concern for doctors. (New Brunswick Medical Society)

“We don’t see how it helps the health system and how it’s better for everybody in the province versus just us in Sackville,” he said. 

The other hospitals losing some ER service are Sussex Health Centre, Hotel- of St. Joseph in Perth-Andover, Stella-Maris-de-Kent Hospital in Sainte-Anne-de-Kent, Enfant- Hospital in Caraquet and Grand Falls General Hospital.

Community leaders and others in Caraquet speak to media outside the local hospital to defend existing levels of service there. (Alix Villeneuve/Radio-Canada)

Dr. Chis Goodyear, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, said in a statement that the province’s health-care system has to evolve in order to “reflect today’s and tomorrow’s populations.”

He said changes to the health-care system are always concerning for New Brunswick physicians. 

“We will be monitoring the situation closely and listening to our emergency department physicians to ensure that these changes reflect the future needs of our health system and that patient safety is not negatively impacted,” Goodyear said.

Online petitions were already circulating in communities such as Sussex and Sackville aimed at preserving local hospital services.

And in Caraquet, about 40 people spoke outside the L’Hôpital de l’Enfant- RHSJ, including local Liberal MLA Isabelle Thériault, Acadie-Bathurst Liberal MP Serge Cormier and most members of the town council. 

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