New Brunswick

'It's disastrous': Communities uneasy about losing overnight ERs

People express concern over the cuts to emergency service hours in six New Brunswick communities.

'It penalizes people for living in rural areas'

MLA Bruce Northrup spoke with angry protesters outside the hospital in Sussex about the cut in ER services. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Hundreds of protesters stood outside the hospital emergency room in Sussex, ringing bells, waving bright orange signs and chanting "rural lives matter."

People in six New Brunswick communities expressed their anger Tuesday after learning the emergency room hours at their local hospitals, including the Sussex Health Centre, will be cut and local hospital beds will be converted to long-term care beds.

"As far as the government is concerned, rural lives don't matter," said Jill Beaulieu, who lives in the Sussex area.

People held up signs that read: "Health cuts kill," "Save Sussex," and "Seniors and everyone else in Sussex need our hospital open 24/7."

Progressive Conservative MLA Bruce Northrup, who sits on the government side of the house, was surrounded by protesters, although he wasn't happy about the cuts either.

As he spoke, residents kept interrupting him with comments like: "You just keep cutting and cutting until there's nothing left" and "We are your people. That's your hospital. Save it."

Ron Corbett said the province shouldn't limit hours of emergency services, because more residents will need those services in the future. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

One man asked: "What are you going to do if you have a heart attack here at midnight and this hospital closed?"

Northrup said he will be getting more information from Horizon Health Network, stakeholders, doctors and people who run the hospital. Then he will make a decision on Thursday about whether he supports the government's decision.

Northrup said he heard rumours in December aabout the cuts and believes there should have been more communication among communities, members of the legislature, and people working in health care. 

"Communication in this has been deplorable."

A similar angry crowd gathered in Caraquet as the changes were announced.

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.

Marilyn Stockdale was also protesting outside the hospital in Sussex. 

"I could crawl here in the middle of the night if I got sick," she said. 

"Whether I get to Saint John on my own or not in the middle of the night, I don't know. They don't have any room for us anyway. They're already full up."

Province drops overnight ER hours in 6 hospitals and some people took to the streets in protest. 3:38

'I think it sucks'

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

In Sackville, Ron Corbett said if he hadn't gone to his local emergency room, 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 after the province announced the Sackville ER would not be open overnight and would 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 of the plan announced by the Progressive Conservative government and the two health networks. 

'It doesn't make sense' 

Sarah Poirier said she and her husband fell off a roof late in the evening and had to get to the ER in Sackville . Poirier said her husband's memory was seriously affected.

"Emergencies happen 24 hours a day," she said.

Poirier wasn't impressed by Monday's announcement. 

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)

"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 make a 16 minute trip to Amherst, NS.

"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 said the planned cuts to the ER and surgical services were not mentioned. 

"If there's a strategic element, we didn't see it," Higham said. "We haven't heard it."

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

Perth-Andover Mayor Marianne Bell also took part in the strategic planning sessions, but only found out about the cuts Tuesday morning.  

"I was horrified," she said. "We're baffled and outraged that the Department of Health would drop devastating news like this on our community."

She said it's even more devastating for people living in smaller communities like Plaster Rock and Riley Brook, at least 40 kilometres northeast of Perth-Andover.

"People are so afraid of what will happen if they have a fall, if they get sick in the late evening or overnight."

'We don't see how it helps'

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.

Perth-Andover Mayor Marianne Bell only found out about the cuts to emergency services in her village on Tuesday morning. The news came after she took part in strategic planning sessions recently put on by Horizon Health Network. (Shane/Fowler)

"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. 

Dr. Chris 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.

'It's just not fair'

Rick Chasson lives in Grand Falls. He said the government made a mistake and should keep the ER open 24 hours, especially for seniors.

"It's just not fair, not to the senior citizens," he said. "It isn't right."

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. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Pauline Gagnon has three children at her home in Grand Falls. With government cutting hours to emergency services, she'll be forced to travel to the hospital in Waterville, which is about 40 minutes away and Edmundston, which is one hour away. 

"I think it's very sad and I don't agree," she said. 

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)

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-Jésus RHSJ, including local Liberal MLA Isabelle Thériault, Acadie-Bathurst Liberal MP Serge Cormier and most members of the town council. 

About the Author

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

With files from Tori Weldon

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