Acting Mayor Ron Aiken says the Higgs government should be expanding services at the Sackville Memorial Hospital not cutting them.
In a letter to the provincial health minister, Aiken writes that providing services in Sackville such as CT and MRI scans would lower the demand for transporting patients to Moncton.
“When someone comes into emergency, for example, if they need a CT-Scan or an MRI, they have to be put into an ambulance and taken up to Moncton and then put back in the ambulance and taken back,” Aiken explained in a telephone interview.
“I’ve been told that if those kinds of machines could be in Sackville, over time you’d certainly save the money and the time of the ambulance service and be able to do a quick diagnostic right here,” he added.
“I also thought it might be useful if we had a [kidney] dialysis unit so people could come from the Tantramar region and they wouldn’t have to go to Moncton,” Aiken said. “Those are the kinds of things I was thinking about.”
Aiken’s letter to Health Minister Dorothy Shephard came in response to her message in November asking New Brunswick mayors to provide her with a “vision statement” to help her prepare for consultations this winter on reforming the health system.
Shephard’s letter said changes are needed to deal with a variety of problems including shortages of nurses, doctors and other health professionals; overcrowded emergency rooms; a lack of hospital beds because about 30% of them are occupied by elderly patients needing long-term care; and, delays in providing hip and knee replacement surgery.
Last February, a huge public outcry forced the Higgs government to withdraw planned changes at six rural hospitals, including Sackville Memorial. The changes included overnight closure of emergency rooms, moving day surgeries to larger centres and converting acute-care beds into ones serving patients needing longer-term care.
In his letter to the minister, Aiken writes that the Sackville hospital needs to continue with all of its current functions so that it can meet the goal of equal access to health services envisioned in the Canada Health Act.
“We emphasize a full lab service and a 24-hour emergency room…are so closely tied [that] one without the other is untenable,” the letter says. “The residents of our area have a right (based on the idea of equity) to these services.”
The letter adds that people who live in Moncton, Riverview and Dieppe also need the services at the Sackville Memorial Hospital (SMH):
The SMH already acts as a pressure valve on the overcrowding and wait times in Moncton. Wait times for surgery and emergency services in the Moncton hospitals are well above the national average and getting longer. With rapid population growth in the tri-cities area and the aging of the population in New Brunswick, these wait times can only get worse. Staff at the SMH say that, on some shifts, nearly half their patients are from the Moncton area. To close the Emergency Department at SMH and increase pressure on the Moncton hospitals defies logic.
Aiken says he continues to work with the mayors of the five other communities where hospitals faced overnight emergency room closures and other cuts last year.
He adds that the mayors will now be talking to each other about what they want to say during consultations with the health minister.
“We need to be involved in the actual planning of whatever they’re going to do with the health-care system,” he says, adding that the mayors need to impress upon provincial officials that the cuts proposed last February simply won’t work.
“In our view, it’s off the table,” Aiken says.
To read his letter to the health minister, click here.
To read Dorothy Shephard’s letter to New Brunswick mayors, click here.
To read the provincial news release announcing the hospital cuts on February 11, 2020, click here.