Sackville Mayor John Higham is speaking out again after Horizon Health CEO Karen McGrath said cuts to services at six rural hospitals, including Sackville’s, are still needed.
During the regional health authority’s board meeting last week, McGrath seemed determined to implement the changes.
“We believed, and I have said we still believe, these were reasonable measures that would help make our health-care system more sustainable,” newspaper and radio reports quote her as saying.
She was referring to plans announced in February to close acute-care beds, eliminate day surgeries and shut down emergency rooms overnight at rural hospitals.
“The problems those measures were intended to fix haven’t gone away,” McGrath said. “Doing nothing isn’t an option.”
During an interview this week with CHMA, Sackville’s campus/community radio station, Mayor Higham seemed exasperated by McGrath’s comments.
“I absolutely disagree with her conclusions that this is a reasonable decision,” he said, adding the premier’s office has ignored requests for data that would justify the proposed cuts and the Horizon Health Network has refused to disclose that information.
“It’s a typical case of, ‘well, I’ve got a really, really good argument, but I can’t tell you why,'” Higham said. “Sounds like a kid in elementary school to me, quite frankly.”
The mayor suggested that lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic show that it’s now more important than ever to maintain rural hospitals and he called on Premier Higgs to keep his promise to hold a summit meeting to discuss health-care needs.
“The world has changed in the last three or four months and the health system has changed and we’ve learned a lot through the COVID measures about what works and doesn’t work,” Higham said.
“We’re increasingly saying what we really need now is a real, true health summit about public services in the province,” the mayor added.
In February, Higgs cancelled implementation of the hospital cuts five days after they were announced in response to intense criticism from concerned residents and the resignation of Deputy Premier Robert Gauvin, his only Francophone cabinet minister.
The premier promised he would consult residents in the affected communities in April and May before convening a summit meeting in June to discuss the future of rural health care, but the COVID-19 emergency derailed those plans.
Now, Higham says that Higgs appears to be backing away from holding a summit.
The mayor adds that maintaining hospital services is crucial in attracting new residents and businesses.
“One of the big attractions of Sackville is that there is a hospital within minutes away…doctors with admitting privileges, doctors who can visit you in your own hospital,” he says.
Under the Horizon Health Network plan, Sackville’s acute-care beds would be re-allocated for chronic-care use meaning patients here who need short-term hospital treatment would go to Moncton.
Higham says the COVID-19 crisis in Italy showed that it’s unwise to concentrate hospital services in large regional centres instead of maintaining smaller, community ones.
“It’s the worst possible thing because everybody came to one spot and created a huge, snowball effect.”
He says New Brunswick’s population is evenly split between rural areas and the cities and both have to be treated equally.
“The tone of some of this debate has been is that, we have to have cities, that’s it,” he says.
“I find it distasteful and I don’t want that to continue. I don’t think we should be pitting ourselves against each other like that.”
To listen to and read a transcript of CHMA’s coverage, click here.
To read coverage of Karen McGrath’s visit to Sackville in February and how she justified cuts to hospital beds and services, click here.
In March, Sackville Town Council called for the removal of Karen McGrath as CEO of Horizon Health Network. For coverage, click here.