Acting Mayor Aiken calls for more services at Sackville’s hospital, not provincial cuts

Acting Mayor Ron Aiken

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.”

‘Vision statement’

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.

Ron Aiken addressing a protest rally last February outside the Sackville hospital

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.

Co-ordinated response

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.

NOTE: During last week’s Sackville Town Council Meeting, Aiken thanked Sackville residents Kathy Hamer (Edwards), Sandy Burnett and retired doctor Ross Thomas for their help in drafting the letter.

To read the provincial news release announcing the hospital cuts on February 11, 2020, click here.

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4 Responses to Acting Mayor Aiken calls for more services at Sackville’s hospital, not provincial cuts

  1. There is no need for any Health Care cuts in the province of NB. There is plenty of money owed to the Minister of Finance to more than maintain present services and enhance the services we do have.

    The Auditor General of NB has stated there is over 2 billion– I repeat 2 billion dollars of uncollected debts from NB residents outlined in Chapter 5, Accounts Receivable section of the AG’s Reports for 2018 and 2019.

    All four political parties are aware of the outstanding funds owed to the province by delinquent taxpayers, non payment of loans and other sources. I have documentation of that awareness and yet none of them wish to act upon any serious or meaningful type of collecting process. It is also stated in the AG’s Reports that it costs the government approximately $85,000,000 per year to finance those delinquent accounts.

    If just 1/2 of those debts were collected there would be tremendous improvement in the Provincial financial situation in it’s over deficit.

    Why do all the political parties remain so silent and inactive when it comes to collecting what is owed by our hundred residents, companies and organizations to the NB Finance Department?

    To get the full story read the Auditor General’s reports from the past 10 years.

  2. Macx MacNichol says:

    The first step of all Municipalities and the media should be to contact their local MLAs and get their position on why so many NB taxpayers, organizations and businesses are permitted to maintain delinquent accounts with the Department of Finance, some for years, as per the Auditor General of NB. Some of those accounts have been held in arears for so long they get classified as uncollectible every year, A recent article was released in the media stating the amount which was written off in 2020.

    The MLAs should also be asked why should those with delinquent accounts for years are permitted to receive the same services as those who keep their accounts paid in full or who have made arrangement to pay their accounts with the Finance Department.

    For an example of how long the two main political parties have permitted NB Taxpayers to maintain outstanding or delinquent accounts with the Department of Fiance go to: New Brunswick Auditor General’s Report 2013, Vol. II, Chapter 5: Accounts Receivable, sec. 5.3, p.181).

  3. Wrayton says:

    It seems math and economics are not Aiken’s strong suit. CT-scanners and MRIs are priced in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to buy and operate. By comparison an ambulance ride to Moncton costs a mere $130.00. The cost of purchasing a “cheap” $300,000 CT-scanner and operating it for 5 years at say $200,000 per year ($1.3 million total) is the equivalent of about 2,000 ambulance trips annually. Add in an MRI and you are looking at needing to replace upwards of 4000+ ambulance trips a year to justify the expense. That’s a lot of trips! I am doubtful there are any real savings for the province in Aiken’s proposal and this is not likely the kind of “Vision” the Health Minister is seeking.

  4. Alan Barbour says:

    CBC Nova Scotia published an article today regarding the purchase of two new MRI machines, one for Dartmouth and one for Bridgwater. The cost of these machines is $1.5 million each and it will take three years before these machines are operational. Nova Scotia’s Health Minister, Leo Glavine states “(Nova Scotia) should have one MRI for every 100,000 patients.”.

    Mr Aiken’s suggestion that the long term viability of the Sackville Memorial Hospital may be linked to the purchase of an MRI, as well as a CT-scanner, seems perhaps ill informed. In an interview which aired today on CHMA News local Doctor Allison Dysart seems to agree that MRI and CT-scanners are not appropriate for the hospital. It seems the Sackville area has far too small a population for these machines and the costs are too prohibitive to justify their placement at the hospital.

    This leaves us to wonder how Mr. Aiken came up with this idea and why it was submitted in a “Vision Statement” to the Minister? It’s clear from reading Mr. Aiken’s letter that the one thing it does not contain is any vision and vision is one thing Sackville could really use right now.

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