Sackville town councillors expressed anger, frustration and disbelief last night as they spoke publicly online with senior managers of the Horizon Health Network.
“What we are seeing is the death of our community, the death of our university and it is directly related to our hospital,” Councillor Allison Butcher told Horizon CEO John Dornan and three members of his management team.
“We need you to do something,” Butcher continued.
“We are more than willing to work with you, but we have had two years where we thought we were working with you and the services keep going and the ER hours are cut back and our professionals are leaving and we have been depending on you to fix this and it’s not being fixed,” she said.
“I am very upset because this community is important.”
“We’ve got nurses who are going to Nova Scotia, not just because of wages, but it’s one of the reasons, but also the morale’s so darn low,” Councillor Michael Tower told Dornan.
“Being in charge of Horizon, you have one job to do and that is to make sure the hospitals work,” Tower added.
“If your job was to make that work and you were the coach of a hockey team, you’d be fired,” he said, quickly adding, “not you, but your predecessor.”
Tower was referring to former Horizon CEO Karen McGrath who announced in February 2020 that the Health Network was cancelling overnight emergency room services and closing the Sackville hospital’s acute-care beds.
Although the minority Higgs government swiftly rescinded those cuts, Sackville’s ER is now open only eight hours a day, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and last Friday, Horizon informed town leaders that all of the hospital’s acute beds were being temporarily converted into long-term care beds for patients waiting for placement in nursing homes.
Tower said people move to Sackville partly because the town’s hospital provides vital services but without them, people will stop coming and doctors who can’t admit their patients to hospital won’t want to practise here either.
“We need you to talk to your boss and I mean at the very top,” Tower said.
“Here we are now, he’s got a majority government and he comes out and he just lets this happen.”
‘We will deliver’
The Horizon CEO, who had been invited to attend last night’s town council meeting by Mayor Mesheau, responded that he and his team would do better.
John Dornan promised that services at the Sackville hospital would be restored when Horizon is able to recruit more nurses.
“We will do this,” he said. “We will deliver.”
He also promised to let medical staff know that Horizon is committed to providing full services at the Sackville hospital.
“I appreciate that you’re angry, upset, distrustful,” Dornan said.
“We’ve earned some of that and I’m asking to be given a chance to recreate that trust and earn that back.”
Christa Wheeler-Thorne, who serves as executive director of both the Moncton Hospital and Sackville Memorial, said that in spite of recruitment efforts, the shortage of nurses in Sackville continues to worsen.
She explained that Sackville is operating with only three of 10 full-time nursing positions in the acute-care unit while the emergency room has about six of 10 full-time nursing positions.
Letter demands answers
Dornan and Horizon officials were also responding to a blistering letter addressed to them, Premier Higgs and Health Minister Dorothy Shephard.
The letter, signed by Pat Estabrooks and John Higham, co-chairs of the Rural Health Action Group and Margaret Tusz-King, co-chair of the Tantramar Community Task Force, demands action to restore services at the Sackville hospital.
“We are appalled by the announcement we received by email on Friday at 4:42pm, informing our community that local acute care patients are being moved out, and that Sackville Memorial Hospital is being turned into a Long Term Care holding facility,” the letter says.
“We expect the courtesy of your reply to this letter by 4pm on Tuesday December 7th, as we will be planning further action after that time.”
The letter accuses Horizon and the government of showing a complete disregard for the wishes of the Sackville community.
We are angry, and we plan to advise the Town of Sackville, and all of its citizens, to cease its support or funding for anything related to Horizon Health (e.g. supporting recruitment efforts, donations for hospital equipment, confidence in your words, etc) if we don’t see the following immediately addressed:
● quick action and public commitment to return the Sackville Memorial Hospital to 24/7 ER services and 21 acute care beds, as before
● Horizon budget commitments in line with ours, to continue our collaboration on recruitment
● honest staffing numbers, needs and predictions, so our recruitment efforts will be honest and successful
To read the full letter, click here.
Councillors back letter
Councillor Sabine Dietz challenged the Horizon CEO to come to Sackville to answer questions from people concerned about the future of the hospital.
“You have heard the frustrations,” Dietz said, “and you have heard that it’s getting more and more difficult to believe what we’re being told.”
“We’re glad to come to Sackville,” Dornan replied.
“We’re glad to hear your concerns in person as well as this evening, we appreciate being invited tonight,” he said.
“We won’t have this fixed next week, [but] we will have it fixed,” he pledged.
Later, council unanimously adopted a motion from Councillors Dietz and Tower calling for the town to send a letter to the province fully supporting the one from the Rural Health Action Group.