Sackville Town Council is getting involved in the fight to maintain 24-hour emergency services at the town’s hospital.
After a 49-minute debate last night at town hall, councillors voted to appoint Mayor Shawn Mesheau and one councillor to participate in the eight-member working group that has been trying to persuade the province to enhance the hospital’s services.
The working group, including former mayors John Higham, Pat Estabrooks and former Acting Mayor Ron Aiken, is now fighting against the weekend evening and overnight closing of the hospital emergency room (ER) at least until September.
“I very, very strongly believe that we as council have a gigantic role to play here and we need to take it by the horns,” Councillor Sabine Dietz said.
She argued that town council should play a prominent role in defending the hospital’s services.
“We need to play a leadership role in this, not just a participating role and that’s really my point,” Dietz said.
Mayor urges caution
Dietz was responding to suggestions from Mesheau that town council support the working group, but not make it a formal municipal committee or get directly involved in its plan to organize a public rally.
“I had somebody the other day approach me at work and felt that it was up to council to organize a protest,” Mesheau said.
“That’s not a municipality’s role to organize protests. The municipality needs to be working with all levels of government,” he added.
“We may not agree with government, but a municipality needs to build on those relationships.”
The mayor noted that he’ll be meeting this Thursday with provincial health minister Dorothy Shephard and local government minister Daniel Allain to discuss the summer ER closings.
So far, both Shephard and Horizon Health officials have said that closing the Sackville ER from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays will end when three additional nurses are hired, possibly by September, but that will depend on successful recruitment efforts.
CAO Jamie Burke said he shared Mesheau’s concerns about direct town involvement.
“We’re not in the health-care business,” he said. “We pave roads, we build parks, we provide services to people’s property; the provincial government is responsible for providing health-care services.”
Burke acknowledged that maintaining hospital services is crucial for attracting new residents, for retaining those already here and for recruiting Mount Allison students, but said his preference would be to let the high-powered, community working group lead the campaign against ER cuts.
“They’re very successful,” he said. “They mobilize quickly, they’re not government, so they’re able to be more agile and quick on their feet [and] they’ve got a powerhouse of representatives sitting around the table to strategize about how best to move this.”
Council sides with Dietz
Councillor Michael Tower seconded Dietz’s motion directing the mayor and one unspecified councillor to participate in the community-led working group.
“I think it is our job to show leadership,” he said.
“I think it’s our job to get involved. We have the podium we can use to talk to either Higgs or anybody up there because the operation and health of this town is still part of our mandate and I think we have to find ways to make that work,” Tower added.
“The bottom line is we need more control here locally and so we have to find a way to take action to get the government to wake up, talk to us and work with us and that way we’d get back to what Higgs wanted, a collaboration with all the municipalities and make this health care work.”
Despite the mayor’s and CAO’s calls for caution, council approved this motion unanimously:
Moved by Councillor Sabine Dietz and seconded by Councillor Michael Tower that in light of current threats to our hospital and the current summer closures to the Emergency Room Department, we direct mayor and one (1) councillor to take part in the health committee and regularly report back to council, working towards ensuring our hospital remains at full services.
After the vote, Councillor Dietz laughed as she apologized for prolonging the new council’s very first session.
“That’s OK,” Mayor Mesheau replied.
“The Chair is really enjoying this because, first out of the gate and wow,” he said.
“But that’s good, discussion is good.”
To see who is currently serving on the eight-member, health-care working group, click here.
For a report on the origins of the community working group in February, 2020, click here.