The New Brunswick government pushed ahead with controversial plans to close two hospitals Wednesday, promising to build a new $70-million regional hospital near Hartland to serve residents of the upper St. John River Valley.

A draft version of the plan has drawn protests from those residents for the last several weeks.

Health and Wellness Minister Elvy Robichaud outlined the changes to the region's mayors at a Hartland country club. They include:

  • Closing the Northern Carleton Hospital in Bath and the Carleton Memorial Hospital in Woodstock.
  • Turning the Tobique Valley Hospital into a health centre staffed by doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners, but offering no ambulance service or in-patient beds.
  • Transforming the Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Joseph in Perth-Andover into a small community hospital with 24-hour emergency and ambulance service and about 15 family practice beds.

The two hospitals slated for closure will stay open until the new 70-bed hospital is finished, possibly by 2007.

"This is our best opportunity to renew the health-care system in the valley," Robichaud said in a news release. "It will provide the residents of all our communities with a modern and responsive system that will deliver quality services when we need them, for many years to come."

Still, the reorganization will be a hard sell.

When news of the plans first came out, residents stormed a health region board meeting, preventing a vote on the proposal.

Hundreds later demonstrated against the plan in front of the provincial legislature in Fredericton, saying medical care will suffer if the hospitals close.