Hospital services

Mount A faculty ask to save Sackville hospital services, but no end in sight to cuts

Cuts to hospital services described as temporary risk damaging the momentum that helps attract people to move to or stay in Sackville, said the president of the Mount Allison University faculty association.

Erin Steuter said in an interview that many people coming to New Brunswick want to work remotely from a vibrant community like Sackville.

“It’s going to be difficult to sustain or sustain if it becomes an area that doesn’t provide the kinds of services that people expect,” Steuter said.

The Mount Allison Teachers’ Association recently sent a letter to the provincial government calling for the preservation and improvement of services at Sackville Memorial Hospital.

In December, Horizon Health Network announced that it would close the hospital’s acute care beds and send patients to Moncton. Beds have been converted to accommodate people awaiting long-term care due to what Horizon said is a staffing shortage.

No timeframe was given for restoring service.

Erin Steuter, president of the Mount Allison Faculty Association, says health care concerns have been raised during job interviews faculty members have participated in. (Jeremy Boorne/Submitted)

This followed a “temporary” cut to the hospital’s emergency room overnight hours over the weekend last June, attributed to vacant nursing posts. Horizon announced last fall that the ER would only be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. At the time, Horizon said it only had six doctors to cover shifts when it would normally have nine.

“Our members are very concerned about the persistence of some of the closures that have occurred at Sackville Hospital,” Steuter said of the university’s faculty.

Horizon did not give a timeline for when services will be restored. It is unclear whether there has been any progress in filling vacancies.

The health authority did not grant an interview.

The changes led to protests in the community and concerns they represented for the implementation of plans which the Progressive Conservative government scrapped in 2020 in response to public outcry.

Steuter said the hospital and health care come up in the job interviews the members take part in.

“It’s already a bit of a sell to try to get people to come and engage in a very small community and then find out that there’s already a likelihood that they’re on a waiting list for go to a family doctor,” Steuter says.

The recommendation was that those waiting for a family doctor should go to the hospital in case of an urgent health problem.

“Then to kind of take that safety net away, a lot of people are really wondering if this is going to be the right place for them in these circumstances.”

The association has asked the government if there is anything its members or the university can do to remedy the situation.

Community group ‘feels encouraged’

A community task force looking to help recruiting efforts recently issued a press release with a more optimistic outlook.

“We feel encouraged,” said John Higham, co-chair of the Memramcook-Tantramar Rural Health Action Group and former mayor of Sackville, in this week’s release.

“The year-end meetings with Horizon Health Network gave us hope that the cuts we protested against last year will indeed be temporary.”

The release says Horizon has agreed to help the group with its marketing efforts to recruit and retain doctors, nurses and healthcare support staff in the area.

Current Sackville Mayor Shawn Mesheau echoed that hope in an interview.

“We feel positive as regional mayors and we feel positive, the rural health action groups we feel positive and the fact of the commitment that is happening and the work that is going on.

Sackville Mayor Shawn Mesheau says he hopes the measures will be temporary. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Mesheau said there is no timeline for restoring services.

“We will continue to move forward with this and impress on people – the health department and Horizon – that this is still a pressing matter here no matter what else is going on and all the hands also have to be on the bridge to move it forward,” Mesheau said.

Mesheau said they understand the fifth wave of COVID-19 is further reducing health system capacity with so many health care workers falling ill.

Both the mayor and Steuter pointed to a recent snowstorm, when an ambulance was called to the community at a time when ERs were closed and the storm closed the Trans-Canada Highway.

“People were certainly extremely concerned about that exact situation,” Steuter said.