Critics lambaste Horizon Health and province for weekend ER closures at Sackville hospital

Former Mayor Pat Estabrooks addressing Town Council in 2017

The Horizon Health Network and the provincial government are facing a barrage of criticism for closing weekend evening and overnight emergency services at Sackville Memorial Hospital without any consultations.

“I’m disappointed that we were not approached until the last minute,” says former Mayor Pat Estabrooks, who now serves as chair of the Hospital Foundation. “I don’t think there’s a lot of details on why [this is happening] other than nursing shortages.”

Estabrooks said she has serious doubts about the decision to close the Sackville emergency room (ER) weekend evenings and overnights starting yesterday.

The indefinite closures will continue at least until September, meaning that the Sackville ER will be shut down from 4 p.m. until 8 a.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Horizon VP Clinical Geri Geldart explains weekend closures of Sackville ER

During an online news conference on Friday, Horizon Vice President Geri Geldart said that the closings are necessary because three of the nine nursing positions in the local ER are vacant.

“The Sackville Memorial Hospital staff have held this service together for quite some time,” she told reporters.

“They’ve worked extra hours, they’ve worked overtime, they’ve changed their schedules with really very limited notice and they’ve done it all so that they could maintain the coverage of the service in the emergency department,” Geldart said.

“We have to balance our responsibilities to provide health care with the need to provide our staff with a reasonable amount of vacation time and given the past year with all of the pressures that everybody’s experienced with respect to COVID, it’s even more important that we give our staff the opportunity of having a small break.”

Geldart said Horizon is working on recruiting more nurses and is in touch with a small number who have expressed interest in working at the Sackville hospital, but she could not give a definite date when the weekend closures might end.

‘Thin edge of wedge’?

Dr. Ross Thomas addressing rally against cuts to Sackville hospital services in Feb. 2020

“The concern I would have with all this is that there’s no very clear plan about re-instituting the service and there’s no commitment to that,” says retired Sackville doctor Ross Thomas.

He notes that in February 2020, Horizon and the province announced that all overnight emergency services in Sackville and at five other rural hospitals would be shut down, before protest rallies forced the Higgs minority government to cancel its plan.

“Knowing the Horizon administration wished previously to curtail services in hospitals and now this is a good excuse to say, ‘Well, you know we tried, but we can’t staff it so therefore we’re going to do what we were going to do anyway,” Thomas adds.

He says Horizon may be doing a trial run to see how the public reacts.

“If this is an essential service, it needs to be staffed,” he says, “and obviously, they’re taking the attitude that this is not an essential service…The concern is that this is just the thin edge of the wedge, it’s death by a thousand cuts.”

‘It’s big and it’s bad’

Newly elected Sackville Town Councillor Sabine Dietz says full emergency room services are essential in Sackville for economic development and attracting new residents, businesses and doctors as well as for students at Mount Allison University.

“I think personally we can’t let this go quietly, we can’t just accept this because it is part of the steps of reducing the services that we have,” Dietz says, while emphasizing that she is speaking for herself and not on behalf of  town council.

“I think it’s big and it’s bad.”

Sackville Councillor Sabine Dietz

She says that while the provincial health minister talks about welcoming new nurses, they are currently working without a new contract. (Their previous one expired in 2018 and according to union president Paula Doucet, they are the lowest paid registered nurses in Canada).

“Are we surprised, all of a sudden at having (nursing) shortages?” Dietz asks, adding that the health authorities are now using them to justify cuts.

“Of course, it had to happen,” she says. “The way it’s lined up with the intent of closing some of Sackville’s services, with the lack of training of nurses in the province, with the lack of recruitment in the province, all of that, it was just a matter of time in my opinion.”

Higgs broke promise?

Local Green MLA Megan Mitton, who is currently on maternity leave, issued a statement on Facebook that said cutting Sackville ER services to deal with a province-wide nursing shortage isn’t an acceptable solution.

“I have requested that the Minister of Health and CEO of Horizon take immediate steps to consult with local stakeholders to create a new plan that will ensure that emergency health needs are met even as we navigate a difficult time,” Mitton wrote.

“I have faith that the creativity and commitment of local health professionals and engaged community members are up to the challenge.”

Meantime, in the legislature yesterday, Green Party leader David Coon asked Premier Higgs why he had broken the promise he made last year to maintain full ER services at rural hospitals including Sackville Memorial.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard speaking in the NB legislature

Answering on Higgs’s behalf, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard called the Sackville ER closures temporary.

“The issue is, Mr. Speaker, if you do not have doctors, if you do not have nurses to have in those emergency rooms, you risk the safety of every patient and staff member by keeping them open,” she added.

“This is not a permanent closure, Mr. Speaker. This is an action taken to support the summer staffing shortages that are certainly going to happen.”

For her part, former Mayor Estabrooks says Sackville can’t accept nursing shortages as a reason for cutting ER services.

“I realize that both nurses and doctors have had a rough year,” she says. “A lot of them are very tired and they need vacations and I understand all of those things, but I think they’ve had sufficient time to look at the situation here at our hospital and do the replacements that are needed.”

Estabrooks says the ad-hoc committee that has been fighting for the hospital will be sending a letter to Horizon questioning the ER closures.

“Also, I think it’s time to have a public reaction to this too in person. I think we need a rally  again and just say, ‘We’re not going to stand for this.'”

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4 Responses to Critics lambaste Horizon Health and province for weekend ER closures at Sackville hospital

  1. Les Hicks says:

    I agree with all of the comments made by Pat Estabrooks, Ross Thomas, Sabine Dietz, and Megan Mitton re Irving Man Higgs’ broken promise that he made the residents of Sackville last year. It’s interesting to note the timing of the government’s cutback on emergency services at our hospital. Can it just be coincidence that these latest cutbacks have begun at the start of cottage season, when Higgs knows that many of the Sackville area residents will be at their cottages and not paying as close attention to what is happening with their hospital. I think not.

    I agree with Pat that it is time for more public demonstrations against these latest cuts. If the residents of Sackville and surrounding areas do not make our voices heard then these ‘temporary’ closures will without a doubt become permanent. I hope that the Sackville Memorial Hospital Foundation and other organizations are making plans for more public demonstrations like those of last year which were instrumental in forcing Higgs to postpone his plans to decimate our health care in Sackville. As the old adage goes, ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease.’

    People should read the ‘Canada’s National Observer’ article about Blaine Higgs (The Man From Irving) to see how close his ties are to the Irving Corporation, which hides billions of taxable dollars by placing it in offshore tax havens and by taking advantage of the huge loopholes in the provincial and federal tax laws that favour ultra-rich individuals and large corporations:

    Also check out organizations like Canadians for Tax Fairness :

    and the Council of Canadians :

    for their positions on the inequitable tax laws in Canada. If these billionaires and corporations paid their fair share of taxes there would be more than enough money to pay for an excellent health care system.

    • Dave Bailie says:

      Thank you very much Les Hicks for attaching the ‘National Observer’ link ‘The Man from Irving’, I just finished it this morning. Very eye opening story that, I think, every NBer if not every Canadian, should read . I also think ,due to the ‘ media capture’ in this Province, concerned citizens like Les need to spread the truth about Irving domination of NB . Sincerely, Dave Bailie

  2. Wayne Feindel says:

    ‘Policy Governance’ used by NB for at least 20 years is quite clear that professionals aren’t to consult ordinary Citizens. It must be especially egregious for us to indulge the Irvings when they are investing elsewhere. Money always goes where it is wanted.

    • Dave Bailie says:

      I am not quite sure what Mr. Feindel is saying here.
      If he is saying that ordinary citizens are shocked to find out that the Irving connected Companies; and other large companies, operating in NB, are receiving large sums of Tax Payer cash & resources then I understand. Most NBers don’t know how entrenched ‘ Irving et al’ are in controlling multi aspects of our Province ( check Corporate Capture ).
      What I find confusing is the last sentence of Mr. Feindel’s comment ” Money always goes where it is wanted” .
      As the cutbacks to Heathcare, Education, Social Programs , etc by both past & present Conservative & Liberal governments prove to me, in NB ,taxpayer money does not go where it is wanted or needed but rather it goes to extremely wealthy Companies ,such as the Irving companies , in tax cuts, subsidies, grants …the list go on & on . This abuse of the use of taxpayer dollars makes me ask : When will this ‘Corporate Welfare’ stop & the health &welfare of NB citizens come first?

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