New Brunswick

Campbellton woman calls for return of obstetric services after moose collision

A Campbellton woman is calling for the return of obstetric services at the local hospital and improved wildlife fencing along the highway after she hit a moose on her way to the Bathurst hospital for the birth of her first grandchild.

Amanda Johnson hit a moose on her way to the Bathurst hospital to meet her first grandchild

Amanda Johnson is grateful she was driving her boyfriend's truck instead of her SUV when she struck a moose on Highway 11 overnight Friday, while driving from Campbellton to Bathurst. (Amanda Johnson/Facebook)

A Campbellton woman is calling for the return of obstetric services at the local hospital and improved wildlife fencing along the highway after she hit a moose on her way to the Bathurst hospital for the birth of her first grandchild.

Amanda Johnson says she awoke Saturday around 2:45 a.m. to a call from her "very pregnant" daughter Mallory Raymond, who also lives in Campbellton and was on her way to the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst.

"She said, 'You better come. It's time."

Johnson stumbled out of bed and rushed to get ready.

She wanted to take her smaller SUV to save money on gas during the roughly one-hour drive, but something told her to take her boyfriend's GMC Sierra truck instead, she said.

"And I'm glad I did."

She headed onto Highway 11, passing directly in front of the Campbellton Regional Hospital to travel to another hospital, about 100 kilometres away, she noted.

Obstetrics service 'temporarily interrupted' in 2020

The Vitalité Health Network announced in April 2020 that obstetrical and pediatric services at the Campbellton hospital were being "temporarily interrupted" until further notice, because of a lack of pediatricians in northern New Brunswick and the absence of regular locum physicians due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The highway was dark and foggy, said Johnson. 

"I was very, very nervous. I was driving slower than usual because I know that there's a lot of moose in this area."

She kept her eyes on the road and a firm grip on the steering wheel.

About 20 minutes into the drive, just as she was settling in, bam, "out of nowhere," she felt an impact on the passenger side of the truck. "I had no time to react."

The windows shattered and the airbags deployed.

She had struck a moose.

Will never forget it

The experience "will forever be etched in my memory," Johnson posted on Facebook.

"The sheer sight of it. The sound it made when it hit my truck. The explosion of the air bag (yes they explode) The smell of the fumes. The pain I felt in my both wrists. The stinging and burning sensations from the airbag hitting me at warp speeds. The seat belt that now has me pinned into my seat!  I can't unfasten it and it's hurting me.

"My ears stop ringing, I regain my senses and realize what just happened. It's now all of a sudden VERY dark, VERY quiet and I am VERY alone in the middle of the woods on Highway 11 with a dead moose beside my truck."

I think it's terrible that there's a beautiful hospital right in our own backyard, and we have to travel all that way to receive the services.- Amanda Johnson, Campbellton

Johnson called 911 and waited for first responders to arrive, while bugs were "eating [her] alive." It was 3:37 a.m.

When she saw headlights appear in the distance, it was "very scary" because she thought the vehicle might hit her, as she was still in the traffic lane.

But the vehicle stopped and she realized it was the baby's other grandparents on their way to the hospital.

"I'm grateful for that."

Johnson finally got to meet her grandson Maddox after she was checked out at the emergency department, following her collision with a moose. (Amanda Johnson/Facebook)

Before long, an ambulance arrived, followed by a police car, fire truck and tow truck.

Johnson has "quite a bit of bruising" from the seatbelt and airbag, her wrists are injured from the impact on the steering wheel, and she has some "minor" cuts, but she considers herself lucky.

The paramedics wanted to transport her to he hospital by ambulance, but Johnson, who worked as a licensed practical nurse for 18 years and now teaches, didn't feel that was necessary.

Her boyfriend did drive her to the ER to get checked out though, and to get a couple of X-rays, just to make sure nothing was broken.

Hopes to prompt change

Amid the chaos, Johnson received a message that her daughter had delivered a baby boy, Maddox, and both were healthy and doing well.

So her story had a happy ending, but Johnson decided to post about it on social media to "raise awareness" and encouraged others to share it in hopes of prompting change.

"We shouldn't be forced to travel," she said. "We have [the Campbellton Regional Hospital] here and it should be equipped to deal with something as simple as labour and delivery," as it used to be.

"My daughter had no choice but to go to Bathurst hospital to deliver her baby. And, you know, Bathurst hospital was great, don't get me wrong. But I think it's terrible that there's a beautiful hospital right in our own backyard and we have to travel all that way to receive the services."

If people are forced to travel, Johnson said, there should be "safer roadways."

There's been "countless" moose accidents, involving near misses, injuries and deaths, she said.

"The fences that they do have are not maintained. And there's a very large section of highway between here and Bathurst that is not fenced off at all."

More than 1.7K shares

Johnson says she hesitated about posting her story publicly, realizing it would likely cause a "stir," but decided a stir is what's needed.

As of Monday night, her noon post has been shared more than 1,700 times and received more than 200 comments.

She says she's not surprised at the response.

"It's been a topic of discussion around here for months and months."

But she is surprised by how quickly people responded.

"As soon as I hit that post button, my phone immediately started exploding with messages with text messages, emails, friend requests on Facebook from people, strangers [and] news reporters," she said.

"I think I've done my part by sharing my story, and I'm leaving it in the hands of the politicians. Hopefully, something will be done."

'We've had it,' says mayor

Campbellton Mayor Ian Comeau, who knows Johnson, is among those who commented on her post and will be taking up the charge at Vitalité Health Network's annual general meeting.

"An eye opener for our provincial politicians and Vitalité — This is not acceptable — I'm attending Vitalité's AGM  tomorrow, and get ready for an [EARFUL]," he wrote in his Monday post.

"Time we get some respect in Restigouche / Zone 5."

Comeau told CBC News he shared Johnson's post with some ministers and planned to raise the issue at Monday night's council meeting.

"They may send me [to the Vitalité AGM] with a message, and and we'll be talking with our MLAs as well," he said.

Comeau also plans to raise it Wednesday at the Regional Service Commission meeting, where the eight mayors of the Restigouche region meet with the local service district representative.

"It takes things like this to wake up people, wake up a region, and the region has been woken up," he said, noting Johnson's daughter and her unborn child also could have been injured or even killed that night.

Ian Comeau, mayor of Campbellton. said if Johnson or her daughter or her unborn grandson had been killed in a moose collision, roads might have ended up blocked with protesters. (Zoom)

"We've had it … And I'm very, very happy that nobody was killed because, you know, you may have had something severe tomorrow at Vitalité's AGM or roads may have been blocked [with protesters].

"I'm going to tell you, they better start thinking of the north."

Comeau said obstetrics services at the Campbellon Regional Hospital must be restored and proposed training nurses, paramedics, or other medical staff to handle deliveries.

"We have to do something,"  he said. Making people travel to Bahurst is "simply not acceptable."

That stretch of Highway 11 is "very dangerous," said Comeau, describing it as "moose valley."

"We've sent that message to Premier Higgs in the past and we had received a letter that, 'Well, we recommend not to drive at night,' which is, I'm not going to use the language on the radio. But, you know, we have to get some services here, some fair services."

The hospital serves about 30,000 residents in Restigouche and another 15,000 from the Quebec side, he said. "Our population needs to be safe. We all pay taxes."

Vitalité responsible for staffing

Vitalité officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The regional health authorities are responsible for staffing, said Department of Health spokesperson Michelle Guenard.

The department "understands that staffing challenges within the provincial health-care system have forced some citizens to travel for specific health-care services," she said.

The Provincial Health Plan should help, said Guenard.

It will "benefit all New Brunswickers by setting out clear objectives when it comes to access to primary health care and surgery, to improving service delivery, health professional recruitment and retention, and creating a connected system," she said in an emailed statement.

The plan "lays out the building blocks to ensure a better system long term, a system that can continue to grow, improve and be maintained."

'Collison hotspot' study underway

The Department of Transportation, meanwhile, is studying the "top collision hotspots" across the province using the latest available data, from 2019, said spokesperson Jeremy Trevors.

Sections of Highway 11, including in the north of the province near Campbellton, Dalhousie and Bathurst, are included in the study areas, he said.

"Over the next several months, [the department] will be conducting a feasibility study for [wildlife] fence installation," Trevors said in an emailed statement.

"Once the feasibility study is complete, [the department] plans to develop the next phase of wildlife mitigation projects for incorporation into the long-term capital planning process."

It's "not possible" to have wildlife fencing along every roadway, said Trevors. Private driveways and rights-of-way, for example, make it "a challenge" on non-controlled access highways.

The department uses other methods to mitigate the risk of wildlife collisions, he noted. These include signage with warning lights to alert motorists to slow down, and regular brush-cutting to improve visibility along roadways.