The CEO of the Horizon Health Network and the provincial minister of health seem to be sending mixed messages about whether the overnight, hospital emergency room closures in Sackville will be only temporary.
“I received assurances from the minister that these closures are temporary,” Sackville Mayor Shawn Mesheau told CHMA news after he talked with Health Minister Dorothy Shephard on Thursday.
“That statement was made several times through the conversation,” he added. “When you walk away from a meeting and you’re being told and given assurances by the minister that the closures are temporary, then I will have to take the minister at her word.”
Mesheau was referring to Horizon’s decision to close the Sackville ER during the summer from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays because three full-time nursing positions are vacant leaving only six nurses to cover all shifts.
However, a letter earlier in the week from Horizon CEO Karen McGrath, said restoring full ER services in Sackville would depend on the successful recruitment of more nurses.
“We will continue our efforts to recruit, but until we are able to fill these vacancies, the service reduction will continue,” McGrath wrote in a letter to MLA Megan Mitton that was copied to municipal leaders in Sackville, Memramcook, Port Elgin and Dorchester as well as to Fort Folly First Nation Chief Rebecca Knockwood.
“We will organize a meeting with community stakeholders in the coming weeks to explore opportunities for the community to support our recruitment efforts,” McGrath added.
A spokesman for Horizon Health said yesterday that details of that meeting are still being worked out.
McGrath, who has announced she is retiring from her $300,000-$325,000 CEO position next January, was responding to a letter in which MLA Mitton questioned the apparent lack of consultation before Horizon announced the ER closures on June 10th, the day before they were set to begin.
“Putting lives at risk in the Memramcook-Tantramar riding due to a province-wide nursing shortage is an unacceptable solution to a problem that touches all of New Brunswick,” Mitton wrote to both Health Minister Shephard and CEO McGrath.
“Port Elgin is over 70 km away from Moncton; not having an Emergency Room open at night may be a matter of life and death for the people living in the riding of Memramcook-Tantramar,” Mitton added. “There is also no clinic in the region open during those times for non-emergency issues.”
The MLA’s concerns appeared to be borne out at 6:30 last Monday morning when Rockport resident Laura Christie, unaware of the weekend ER closures, drove her 71-year-old mother, who was having trouble breathing, to the Sackville emergency room.
“She was in rough shape,” Christie told the Moncton Times & Transcript.
She said that on the way to the hospital her mother, Marlene, was turning red and fanning herself, but when they arrived, they were told the ER was closed and nursing staff could not assess her mother’s condition or record her vital signs.
The newspaper reported that after Christie called 911, her mother was rushed by ambulance to the Moncton hospital where medical staff found she had fluid building up on her heart and lungs along with an irregular heartbeat.
Christie, who also told her story on Facebook, says her mother was kept in the emergency room and later admitted to hospital for treatment.
Meantime, Mayor Mesheau told CHMA that he and Health Minister Shephard discussed the possibility that Sackville might participate in recruiting nursing staff so the ER could return to full-time hours.
“The minister was glad to hear that we, as a municipality, want to participate in help solving recruitment issues,” Mesheau told reporter Erica Butler.
“And there’s definitely interest on her part and her department’s part in seeing that happen,” he added.
“So how it goes from there, within their structure, I guess that’s up to the minister to work through with Horizon.”
To read Megan Mitton’s letter to the health minister and Horizon CEO, click here.
To read Karen McGrath’s reply, click here.