Saint John back to single COVID-19 testing centre after 2nd site quietly closes
HOPE Wellness Centre on east side will serve as 'hub' after North End Wellness Centre stops taking referrals
Saint John is back to a single COVID-19 testing centre after the Horizon Health Network closed two other locations in the past week, causing growing confusion and concern for some residents.
The only assessment centre operating now is the one located at the HOPE Wellness Centre on Loch Lomond Road on the city's east side, confirmed Horizon's vice-president of community, Jean Daigle.
"Moving forward, this location will serve as the screening and testing hub for the Saint John area and will be open daily by appointment only," he said in an emailed statement.
The testing centre located at the North End Wellness Centre on Victoria Street stopped accepting referrals on Monday afternoon, said Daigle.
It had been set up just days earlier to replace the one that abruptly shut down at Exhibition Park in east Saint John on March 17.
Coun. Donna Reardon, who previously raised concerns about the testing centre being set up in the low-income north end neighbourhood, called the decision to close the site "upsetting."
"It appears that [Saint John] has no firm plan to deal with the testing that will be required," she said in an email.
Horizon's decision to close the north end site comes as New Brunswick's chief medical officer Dr. Jennifer Russell announced plans Tuesday to "increase the pace of COVID-19 testing, to effectively identify those who may have the disease, those who have been in contact with suspected cases, and those who are most vulnerable to its effects."
As of Tuesday afternoon, there are 18 confirmed cases of the viral infection in the province, including two patients who have required hospitalization.
Although all of the cases are related to international travel or close contacts to a confirmed case that has travelled outside the province, Public Health has started testing people with symptoms and no connection to travel, looking for cases of community transmission, said Russell.
People entering New Brunswick from another province must also now self-isolate for 14 days, she said.
Daigle did not offer any explanation for the decision to close the north end screening centre and no one else from Horizon was available to comment Tuesday.
He did say the HOPE Wellness Centre at 4347 Loch Lomond Rd., "has the capacity to better handle the number of people being referred for COVID-19 screening and testing, in addition to the access to technology, equipment and staffing resources required to operate the centre."
Horizon is closely monitoring the number of referrals and will use that data to determine whether additional sites are needed, he added.
Reardon isn't convinced. She said the bewildering opening and then closing of the other two locations "instills a lack of confidence in the decision makers for [Saint John].
"Every place else seems to be up and running," she said, referring to other assessment centres across the province.
Daigle had previously said Saint John's testing centre was moved from the east side exhibition grounds to the north end residential neighbourhood in part to "provide a more central, accessible location to the most vulnerable segments of the city's population."
The north end location allowed for "more immediate access to the technology, equipment, staffing and other resources required to operate the centre," he had said.
Reardon had argued the move to the at-risk neighbourhood wasn't well thought-through.
"People who live in poverty don't have the resources lots of times to be running out buying hand sanitizers and, you know, all these other things that people are using to protect themselves and hoarding, you know, food and all this other stuff," she had said.
Reardon also worried the smaller facility, where it's more difficult to maintain the recommended social distance of six feet, would make it less likely people would go to get tested.
Plaster Rock has also lost its COVID-19 testing centre. The location that was recently set up at the Tobique Valley Community Health Centre closed earlier this week.
The new location for the Upper River Valley area is adjacent to the Hartland Town Hall on Orser Street.
It opened Monday in partnership with the municipality, and provides a more central location for area residents, said Daigle.
Fredericton has two locations: the Fredericton Downtown Community Health Centre on King Street and the former Daily Gleaner building on Prospect Street.
Horizon's other community assessment centre locations currently include:
The Moncton City Hospital in the Professional Arts Building parking lot on Macbeath Avenue.
The Miramichi Health Centre (behind the Miramichi Medical Arts Centre) on King George Highway.
All screening is done by appointment only and only after a triage is done by calling Tele-Care 811 or by a family physician.
Horizon is examining the possibility of establishing additional centres in "strategic locations," said Daigle.
The Vitalité Health Network has eight COVID-19 testing centre locations. They include:
Grand Falls General Hospital.
Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Joseph de Saint-Quentin.
Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont UHC.
Edmundston Regional Hospital.
Campbellton Regional Hospital.
Chaleur Regional Hospital.