New Brunswick

Oromocto hospital ER to close 6 hours earlier each day because of staff shortage

Horizon Health Network says the ER at the Oromocto Public Hospital will have to close six hours earlier as of Tuesday until it can recruit more health-care professionals to work in that department.

'Serious' shortage of staff is jeopardizing patient safety and doctors' mental health, doctors say

The Oromocto Public Hospital will close at 4 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. every day as of Tuesday. (Joe McDonald/CBC News)

Horizon Health Network will be closing the emergency room at the Oromocto Public Hospital six hours earlier than usual each day as of Tuesday because of staffing shortages.

In a statement Monday afternoon, Horizon announced the ER would be closing at 4 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. "until we are able to recruit an adequate number of health care professionals to work in this department."

Ambulances will be diverted to other hospitals.

"All patients and clients requiring urgent medical care will need to seek treatment at another hospital."

The ER will continue to open at its usual time of 8 a.m. daily, and Horizon said patients should call 911 if they're having a medical emergency.

Doctors warned of reduced hours

The announcement came after emergency physicians in Oromocto and Fredericton warned patients that the hospital will be unstaffed in the evenings because of a physician shortage that has reached "crisis" levels.

A statement was posted on Oromocto ER physician Dr. Yogi Sehgal's Facebook page on Sunday and attributed to Fredericton and Oromocto emergency medicine physicians.

The statement says a "serious" shortage of physicians has led to the decision to have the Oromocto ER unstaffed from 6 p.m. onwards, effective Monday, June 21.

Oromocto emergency room physician Dr. Yogi Seghal said physician shortages at the Oromocto Public Hospital have put patient safety and physicians' mental health in jeopardy. (Radio Canada)

"We simply do not have enough physicians to safely provide quality patient care at both the Fredericton and the Oromocto emergency departments," the statement says.

"Therefore, we have informed the Horizon Health Authority that, beginning June 21, 2021 we will be unable to staff the OPH Emergency Department after 6 p.m. each evening. Patients arriving to OPH after 4 p.m. should be redirected to other care, and many patients may not be seen."

The statement notes the situation will "likely persist for the foreseeable future."

In its statement, Horizon said hours will remain the same on Monday and the change will only take effect as of Tuesday.

In an interview, Sehgal said the hospital has been grappling with staffing shortages and a physician shortage for years, operating with 12 full-time physicians when it should have about 20.

Near 'breaking point'

Sehgal, who does the hospital's emergency room scheduling, says they have been patching up staffing holes — such as by bringing in doctors from Saint John or Fredericton, working overtime and cutting into vacation time — but that the situation has become unworkable.

The risk to patient safety, combined with the mental health toll on physicians, has reached a breaking point, he said. 

"We've had to put people in positions that are simply not safe for patients or for the physician," he said. "And it's always managed, but ... there have been complaints. There have been long delays."

Some physicians have left the hospital, while others are buckling under the weight of the workload and stress, Sehgal said.

He stressed that every attempt is made to provide staffing backup.

"But there are some days you just can't ... one doctor is busy with traumas and there's zero backup if you get another critically ill patient." 

With files from Marie Sutherland and Hadeel Ibrahim