Sackville councillor presses RCMP again to do more to protect the town’s water supply

One of four no-parking signs along the TCH on-ramp next to Sackville’s water supply

Sackville Councillor Michael Tower says he’s still worried that illegally parked tanker trucks are endangering the town’s water supply.

During Monday’s town council meeting, he said he’s noticed an increase in the number of trucks parked in the last month along the Walker Road on-ramp on the south side of the TransCanada Highway.

Tower raised the issue during the police briefing at Monday’s council meeting after Sgt. Paul Gagné reported that the RCMP had just switched to a new electronic system of issuing traffic tickets.

Gagné explained that officers can now scan a driver’s licence through an electronic card reader to obtain up-to-date information including past offences before issuing an e-Ticket from a printer in the police vehicle.

“Before, when you wrote somebody a ticket, they may have been stopped two days ago for speeding already [and] we didn’t necessarily know about it,” Gagné said. “It helps with better decision-making about discretion and that kind of thing on the roadside because you can see if somebody got three tickets in the last three months.”

Coun. Michael Tower

Councillor Tower asked if the new system would keep better track of police warnings to truck drivers who park illegally next to the town’s water supply.

He also wondered if the RCMP were still issuing such warnings after noticing an increase in the number of parked trucks along the highway on-ramp in the last month.

Gagné responded that warnings would not necessarily show up in the new system. He also said the illegal parking has not been “part of our briefings of late” adding that if it’s becoming more visible maybe he and Tower could discuss it privately.

When Tower first raised the issue publicly last October, he said he had done so repeatedly during RCMP council briefings that used to be held behind closed doors.

“It’s a broken record for me, you’re probably tired of hearing it,” Tower told Gagné then, “[but] if anything ever happened for this town, that’s our water supply.”

He also said during the October meeting that he had noticed an Irving truck hauling two oil tankers parked along the Walker Road highway on-ramp in spite of the four no parking signs that the province has installed there and he added that it would have been disastrous if those tankers had leaked.

Mayor Higham said at Monday’s meeting that when the town talked to the provincial department of transportation and infrastructure (DTI) about the problem, officials had dispatched staff for several consecutive days to move the truckers along.

“I’ll get in touch with DTI who did that last time,” Higham promised, adding that perhaps town staff could call the province more regularly if the illegal parking becomes more noticeable.

“It only takes that one to have the spill go and then, we’ve got a bigger problem,” Tower warned.

To read my report about what happened when Tower raised the issue in October, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Sackville Town Council calls for heads to roll over plan to cut rural hospitals

Mayor John Higham addressing rally last month outside Sackville Memorial Hospital

Sackville Town Council is joining other municipalities in calling on New Brunswick Premier Higgs to fire Ted Flemming, the provincial health minister and to remove Karen McGrath and Gilles Lanteigne, the Chief Executive Officers of the Horizon and Vitalité Health Networks.

During their regular meeting Monday night, Sackville councillors passed a unanimous motion declaring that a majority of Sackville residents had “lost trust and confidence in the present leadership of these provincial health organizations.”

The motion came in response to plans announced on February 11th to cut medical services at the Sackville Memorial Hospital including shutting down the emergency room overnight, eliminating all acute-care beds and closing the operating room where day surgeries are performed.

It called the cuts “the wrong solutions to properly address the underlying problems in the health care system” and referred to what it called “a complete lack of consultation with health care professionals and with the affected communities.”

Although Higgs announced on February 16th that the government would not proceed with the cuts and would consult with people in the six rural communities where hospitals would have been affected, Sackville’s motion calls on “the government of New Brunswick to provide a clear and final renunciation of the currently suspended plans for rural hospitals.”

It also asks for a provincial commitment “to launch a new and rural-informed process to develop practical and comprehensive solutions to the underlying issues in our health care system.”

In passing the motion, Sackville joined three mayors in the Sussex area who have already called on Higgs to replace the health minister and the two health network CEOs.

Mayor Higham told council the motion was drafted during a meeting on Sunday with members of a local committee established to fight hospital cuts.

He promised he would write to Higgs to let him know about the contents of the Sackville motion. (To read the e-mail, the mayor sent to the premier on March 3rd, click here.)

Higham said the mayors in communities affected by the cuts would confer Tuesday morning to discuss possible next steps.

“We’ll come back with some suggestions,” he said. “There are a couple of events that we’re considering that all communities with these issues should attend and we’ll confirm whether that’s going to happen or not,” he concluded.

Meantime, the Advisory Committee of the Sackville Parish Local Service District, which includes Westcock, British Settlement, Wood Point and Rockport, has also e-mailed a letter to Premier Higgs calling for the removal of the health minister and the two Health Network CEOs.

To read the letter, click here.

Posted in Health care, New Brunswick government, New Brunswick politics, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Many speakers, many ideas during last week’s meeting on saving health services at Sackville Memorial Hospital

MLA Megan Mitton organized the meeting

More than 300 people attended last Wednesday’s public meeting at Mount Allison University’s Convocation Hall to discuss plans to fight cuts to medical services at Sackville Memorial Hospital.

Many people seemed eager to join in the discussion that followed presentations by Memramcook-Tantramar MLA Megan Mitton, Sackville Mayor John Higham and Fort Folly Chief Rebecca Knockwood.

Since there wasn’t room in my Warktimes report on the meeting to write about many of the interesting and insightful comments, I’ve edited my recording of the meeting to include highlights from the discussion. To listen just click on the play button on the media link below.

Aside from Mitton, Higham and Knockwood, the recording features the voices of such participants as Lori Ann Roness, Peter Edwards, Richard Elliot, Dr. Allison Dysart, Wayne Feindel, Pravin Varma, Joyce O’Neil, Laura Thurston, Elise Vaillancourt, Jan Hirtle, Dr. Ross Thomas and several others.

Laura Reinsborough served as the evening’s moderator.

Posted in Health care, Mount Allison University, New Brunswick government, Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Fort Folly Chief Knockwood and Sackville Mayor Higham to fight cuts to hospital services

L-R: Fort Folly Chief Rebecca Knockwood, retired family doctor Ross Thomas and Sackville Mayor John Higham during public meeting Wednesday. Knockwood and Higham will serve as co-chairs of a committee to fight cuts to services at the Sackville Memorial Hospital

Leaders in the Memramcook-Tantramar region are organizing a committee to co-ordinate  the fight against provincial plans to cut overnight emergency room services, day surgeries and acute-care beds at Sackville Memorial Hospital.

During a public meeting in Sackville Wednesday night, MLA Megan Mitton announced the formation of a 12-15 member interim committee co-chaired by Fort Folly First Nation Chief Rebecca Knockwood and Sackville’s Mayor John Higham.

The interim committee would enlist the expertise of local people who could, for example, collect and analyze data, organize communications and contribute stories about their experiences as patients, relatives of patients or medical professionals.

“There are two key things that need to happen,” Mitton told more than 300 people who had gathered in Mount Allison University’s Convocation Hall.

“The first is that we need to respond quickly,” she said, adding that the region needs to be ready to “push back and offer a different perspective” to Premier Higgs if he keeps his promise to visit the six rural communities affected by the proposed cuts to hospital services in April or May.

MLA Megan Mitton beside the table where people signed a petition against cuts to hospital services

Mitton said that the committee, which would be made up of various groups including regional community representatives, university officials, students, medical professionals and the hospital foundation/auxiliary, would also need to plan for the longer term because threats to Sackville Memorial and other rural hospitals won’t be going away anytime soon.

She said that became clear last week when the minister of health and the CEO’s of the two regional health authorities, Horizon and Vitalité, appeared before the   legislature’s public accounts committee.

“It was very clear, they still love this plan and they feel that our communities and the citizens of New Brunswick just don’t understand and just aren’t willing to listen and that we’re too emotional,” Mitton said.

“I feel that the way they’ve been speaking about us is insulting, that we can’t understand complex problems, that we can’t be part of the solution,” she added to sustained applause.

Slide showing possible composition of interim committee to fight hospital cuts

Higham says opposition spreading

Mayor Higham told the meeting that sustained pressure caused the government to postpone its hospital cuts less than six days after they were announced and that part of that pressure came from the mayors in the six affected communities who adopted a concerted approach.

“There was a lot of feeling that, unfortunately, rural areas could be picked off on public policy because they’re just so small, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “But when we get them all together, it does matter and it does make a change.”

Higham added that opposition is now coming from other rural areas that feel threatened too.

“Within a couple of days of this happening, I got a few calls from mayors in smaller towns talking about their health centres; we heard from First Nations talking about their health centres; and, the design of those services in those even smaller places is contingent upon the type of health services that are nearby,” he said.

“So their fear is that they’re next and in essence, whatever happens with us is going to destroy their services as well.”

‘Not going to take this lightly’

Chief Knockwood said the proposed cuts to the six rural hospitals would affect five First Nations.

“Five chiefs are being very vocal about this and they’re not going to let this slide,” she added.

“We had a meeting scheduled for tomorrow with Premier Higgs. Believe it or not, he cancelled last week. I don’t know why,” she added as the audience laughed.

“What I want to say is, when he comes, like he’s supposed to consult, right? When he comes in April or May, make sure it’s him and [Health] Minister Flemming because he likes to send his cronies because he doesn’t want to deal with people…especially First Nations,” Knockwood said.

“So make sure it is the premier who is here because we’re not going to sit back and take this lightly, that’s for sure.”

Doctors speak up

Sackville family doctor Allison Dysart and his recently retired colleague Ross Thomas both said the hospital cuts wouldn’t save the government any money, but would undermine patient care.

Dr. Allison Dysart

Dysart said, for example, that even though the layoff notices that acute-care bed nurses at the Sackville hospital received earlier this month have been rescinded, at least two of them are now looking for work elsewhere because they feel their jobs here are no longer secure.

“To me, one of the things that I’m most upset about is that even though they’ve put forward this terribly planned ‘plan,’ which was anything but a plan, and they’ve taken it back, and yet they’ve still done damage,” Dysart added.

Thomas said the proposed cuts have created what he termed “a huge loss of trust” in the administration of the Horizon Health Network.

“I think they’ve done more harm to recruitment [of medical staff] in these past two weeks than all the good they’ve done in the past several years,” he added.

“I don’t know how to mend that fence, but it’s going to take awhile.”

Student perspective

MASU VP Elise Vaillancourt in the lobby of Convocation Hall

Elise Vaillancourt, a vice president of the Mount Allison University students’ union told the meeting she was pleased with the groundswell of support for the Sackville hospital and opposition to cuts to its services including the overnight emergency room.

“Since this announcement, we’ve heard from a lot of students that they’re really scared for what happens when their friend gets sick at two in the morning,” she said.

“Our issues that happen on our campus disproportionately happen between the hours of 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.,” Vaillancourt added.

She said students often don’t have cars and can’t afford the $80 cab fare to Moncton.

“That’s completely unacceptable for a population of students who have the highest debt load in the country.”

She pointed out that Mount Allison students contribute to New Brunswick’s economy.

“We’re really proud to be here and so thank you all for being here supporting students,” Vaillancourt said.

“We’re happy to support you too and we love this little town.”

Posted in Health care, Mount Allison University, New Brunswick government, New Brunswick politics, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Two stories about healthcare cuts and Horizon CEO Karen McGrath

Karen McGrath, president and CEO Horizon Health Network in the atrium at Sackville Memorial Hospital

“I’ve always wanted to be a CEO of a hospital,” Karen McGrath told the Advertiser, the newspaper in the small town of Grand Falls-Windsor as she reminisced in January 2013 about her six years as Chief Executive Officer at Newfoundland and Labrador’s central health authority.

“The position as CEO of Central Health was my dream,” said McGrath, who now serves as President and CEO of the Horizon Health Network in New Brunswick.

“I had many hospitals. I had two referral centres and many other smaller hospitals,” she told the Advertiser. “I can generally say by and large that I was living a dream. Every day I came to work I enjoyed the challenges that were presented to me.”

When she spoke those words seven years ago, McGrath was leaving one of those challenges behind as she prepared to take up her new post as President and CEO of the Georgian Bay General Hospital (GBGH) in Midland, Ontario.

A week after the Advertiser published its story about her departure, the newspaper covered one in a series of protest rallies held in several communities.

“Armed with brightly coloured signs, supporters braved the cold Thursday morning to gather in front of the Carmelite House long-term facility in Grand Falls-Windsor,” the paper reported.

It explained that registered nurses and their supporters were protesting against a plan, announced several months earlier and backed by McGrath, to cut the number of RNs on the overnight shift from two to one at nearly all rural clinics, health centres and long-term care facilities in central Newfoundland.

The Advertiser quoted Debbie Forward, president of the provincial nurses’ union, saying she had been assured that the number of nurses would not change because RNs would be moved around, but she worried that reducing overnight staffing levels would affect patient safety.

“That’s fine for the nurse, they’ll still have a job, but it’s the impact on healthcare in these communities,” she said.

“As you decrease the number of registered nurses within a facility, you increase the incidence of infections, of falls, of urinary tract infections, respiratory infections,” Forward said on the day a 4,500 signature petition against the nursing cuts was presented to the provincial House of Assembly.

But in spite of continued protests, the nurses lost their fight and today, the RN staffing reduction is still in effect, one of many instances in which frontline healthcare workers and their supporters were overruled by cost-conscious administrators and the politicians they serve.

However, as the next stage of Karen McGrath’s career illustrates, it doesn’t always work out that way.When McGrath took over as President and CEO at Georgian Bay General Hospital in 2013, GBGH was facing serious financial problems. The consulting firm, Geyer and Associates, was hired in 2015 to conduct an operational review.

Its report noted that the hospital had a long-term debt of $10 million and it called for reductions in expenses of $5.2 million.

Among other things, the consultants recommended closing the hospital’s maternity ward, cutting surgery times, removing beds in the intensive-care unit and shutting down the cafeteria.

According to the Midland Mirror, McGrath said that the measures would ensure the hospital stayed open. “This is not death by a thousand cuts,” the newspaper quoted her as saying. “We are planning that this will make us stronger and position us to grow in the future.”

A storm of opposition followed from members of the public who were especially upset over the plan to end childbirths at the hospital.

Doctors warned that GBGH might not survive the proposed cuts and that First Nation and francophone communities had not been consulted about them.

The nurses’ union wrote to the local paper saying the cuts could lead to increased suffering and even death while the local member of the legislature, who also happened to be the leader of the opposition, tabled a petition with almost 16,000 signatures calling on the provincial government to stop the cuts.

About 10 months after the recommendations were made public, the hospital board voted against implementing most of them which meant that GBGH would need to find other ways to trim its deficit of about $1.2 million.

“We have not identified other areas in terms of savings. This is the challenge ahead,” the local paper quoted McGrath as saying in October 2016. “Since we’re not really doing any of the cost-savings things the report recommended, it will still leave us with the shortfall we had before the report was released.”

About two weeks later, McGrath announced her departure to become President and CEO of the Horizon Health Network in New Brunswick, a job with increased responsibility and substantially higher pay.

Public documents show that in her last full year at GBGH, McGrath was paid $208,565.44 while the latest figures from the New Brunswick government show her earnings in 2018 at Horizon Health fell within the range of $275,000 to $299,999.

Now, McGrath finds herself embroiled once again in an outcry over cuts that according to CBC, were actually much milder than ones proposed in 2014 before she joined Horizon.

The minority Conservative government has postponed the latest cuts for now, but both Premier Higgs and McGrath say that something will have to be done to make health care here “sustainable,” especially in light of looming shortages of healthcare workers.

During a news conference in Sackville last week, McGrath was asked how she would compare New Brunswick healthcare with the services delivered in the two other provinces where she has worked.

“I think we have a superior system in New Brunswick,” she answered. “It is a system that is focussed on quality and safety. It is a system, though, that is starting to show cracks,” she added. “That is forcing us I think to make some hard decisions that are not popular.”

It remains to be seen, of course, how the healthcare system’s “cracks” get repaired and whose “hard decisions” are finally implemented.

As an online essay by Dr. Chris Goodyear, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society shows, there are sharp divisions, once again, between frontline caregivers and the senior administrators and politicians who oversee the healthcare system.

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Commentary: Community hospitals have ‘a duty to the living’

by Alexander (Sandy) Burnett

Alexander (Sandy) Burnett

Horizon Health CEO Karen McGrath seemed perplexed last week.

Faced with questions from the public and the press about planned reductions in service at six small-town hospitals across New Brunswick, her standard answer suggested a serious lack of understanding of the sense of community ownership that has fostered the development of healthcare in this province for over a century.

“This is not a consultative process,” she declared. “This is me… coming up with a plan.”

In fairness, Ms. McGrath, who has degrees in Business Administration and Social Work, speaks from the perspective of a seasoned administrator. Before her arrival in New Brunswick three years ago, she had more than 10 years of experience as a CEO, at the Georgian Bay General Hospital in Midland, Ontario, the Central Health Authority in Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Ontario Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association. Sad to say, such employment does not seem to have prepared her very well for public engagement and accountability.

That is unfortunate, as she now finds herself face to face with the passionate belief of local citizens in Sackville, Sussex, Perth-Andover, Grand Falls, Caraquet, and Richibucto that they have the right to participate in decisions affecting the healthcare facilities of their communities. And as of the weekend, even Premier Higgs reluctantly conceded the point.

Before getting embroiled further in head-to-head debate with a significant percentage of the population, Ms. McGrath might do well to inform herself about the history of community engagement that underlies such fierce opposition to her seemingly inflexible position.

Six years ago, I was commissioned by the Tantramar Heritage Trust to write a history of local healthcare, later published under the title A Duty Toward the Living.

I drew that title from a letter to the editor of the Sackville Tribune, written by William B. Fawcett and published on March 10, 1919. In it, he applauded the idea of establishing a community hospital as a memorial to soldiers lost in the First World War, and backed it with a pledge of $10,000 (about $144,000 in today’s currency) to start the ball rolling.

Explaining his gift, he stated, “Outside of all the sentiment surrounding the idea of a monument to the dead…I believe Eastern Westmorland is in even greater need of such a Public Hospital as a duty toward the living.”

It would be another 25 years before the Sackville Memorial Hospital finally opened its doors, but the concept that the community at large had “a duty to the living,” has remained central to Sackville’s view of healthcare from that day to this.

Sackville Memorial Hospital officially opened in August 1946

Throughout that century, the people of Sackville and eastern Westmorland County have consistently embraced that sense of duty by way of selfless volunteer service on boards, committees, the Auxiliary, and the Hospital Foundation, and through generous support of fundraising. Their goal? To build, maintain, and enhance a place where the health and wellness needs of the community could be met or, if need be, effectively referred to other centres for more advanced care.

Some of those efforts were as down-to-earth as donating locally made jams and jellies to the hospital kitchen to sweeten the breakfast toast served to patients. Others were as complex as the raising of millions of dollars over the years to purchase life-saving equipment for local use. Small wonder that members of the Tantramar community, from Dorchester to Cape Tormentine and beyond, have a proprietary sense of “their” hospital.

The editor of the Tribune-Post summed up that attitude in an editorial published on September 29, 1960: “We must remember that the Sackville Memorial Hospital is our hospital, built by the community and controlled by a Board of Trustees made up of local people who give of their time and energy without any remuneration. It is an institution in which the people of the community take justifiable pride. We want to continue to control its administration and operation. Our only means of keeping it that way is to maintain and strengthen local interest.”

In the years that followed, with the introduction of Medicare and a steadily expanding role for federal and provincial governments in providing state-of-the-art healthcare across Canada, that dedicated local commitment was enhanced by massive support from the higher levels. But the sense of local ownership and accountability never diminished.

In May 1986, the Board of the Sackville hospital adopted a new mission statement in which that determination was clearly evident: “The hospital provides primary medical, emergency, obstetrical, surgical, and ambulatory care, supported by diagnostic and consultative services; enhances access to secondary and tertiary care through integration with the larger health system; and maintains contact with discharged patients to ensure continuity of care.”

A year later, hospital administrator Neil Ritchie put it this way: “Family medicine is still our focus. Your family doctor is still in the best position to decide what health service you need. We [the hospital] are here to support the community and to enhance the ability of the family doctor to deal with your problems.”

That sense of mission saw a new hospital built and opened on its present site April 1, 1988, its operation supported and sustained locally by the Foundation, the Auxiliary, and local citizens and service clubs. And it guided responsible management into the bargain. At the 1990 annual general meeting of the Sackville Memorial Hospital, it was reported that the institution had ended the fiscal year in the black on an operating budget of over $5 million. In the course of that year it had supported 13,803 days of in-patient care, 32,000 outpatient visits, 2,986 clinic visits, and 1,022 day-surgery procedures.

It came as a shock, then, in March 1992, when provincial health minister Russ King announced the dissolution of the hospital’s Board of Trustees and a reduction in local services, amalgamating all independent hospitals within new regional authorities.

Board chairman David Jones reported it this way to a sombre meeting in Sackville: “Effective April 1, this board has no more power and no more purpose. I attended a meeting in Fredericton today. I was there to represent not only this board but all previous boards that helped build Sackville Memorial Hospital and make it what it is. And there was not one word of acknowledgment of those volunteers.”

It is significant that, despite that takeover 28 years ago, despite the consolidation of eight regional authorities into two province-wide networks (Horizon and Vitalité) and despite the transfer or reduction of some services, community loyalty has remained strong. The people of Tantramar have sustained a healthy desire to influence, support, and enhance “their” system, raising millions of dollars to keep the Sackville Memorial Hospital at the forefront of community medical care.

In view of this vital record of involvement, it should have come as no surprise to Ms. McGrath, her associates, and her political masters in Fredericton, that this community and others expect and demand open and constructive consultation on how best to achieve needed adjustments to the healthcare system.

She herself, on taking up her duties as CEO of Horizon, stated: “Engagement is the key to success — with patients, staff, physicians, and our communities.”

At the time, that sounded like a commitment to a consultative process. The supporters of small community hospitals across New Brunswick expect no less.

Alexander (Sandy) Burnett has lived in Sackville since 1978. Formerly employed as a teacher and with the National Film Board of Canada, he has been a freelance writer and communications consultant since 1984, working for a wide range of clients, among them the Canadian Wildlife Service, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and the World Wildlife Fund. His articles have appeared in a variety of publications including Canadian Geographic, Equinox, Harrowsmith and Nature Canada. He is the author of a number of books, among them: On the Brink: Endangered Species in Canada; A Passion for Wildlife: The History of the Canadian Wildlife Service; and A Duty Toward the Living: A History of Healthcare in Tantramar.

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Sackville rally hears fight against hospital cuts is not over yet

For the second time in four days, hundreds gathered today outside Sackville Memorial Hospital to oppose cuts to medical services there.

Sackville Mayor John Higham told the crowd that Premier Higgs’s announcement last night that the government would not close the emergency room overnight, starting on March 11th, may be only a temporary reprieve.

Mayor John Higham addressing today’s rally

“It sounds like a breathing delay to get to the next election,” Higham said. “It only says we’re going to think about it.”

The mayor urged people to keep up the pressure and maintain solidarity against any cuts to hospital services.

“Fifty per cent of this province is prepared to fight,” Higham said in an apparent reference to rural New Brunswickers, who would be most affected by government cuts to smaller hospitals.

“Fifty per cent of this province is prepared to bring positive alternatives…to address the underlying issues, but to do it with community strengths, not defeating the community and taking away its strengths.”

‘Community continues to stand up’

Local MLA Megan Mitton confirmed that the Higgs government has also backed down on closing all of the Sackville hospital’s acute-care beds as well as the operating room where day surgeries are performed.

MLA Megan Mitton

“This is good news for now,” she said.

“We can take a little bit of a breath, but we are not out of the woods because what I heard Premier Higgs saying in the press conference he held this morning,” she added, “was that they still think this is a good plan and they just didn’t communicate it well and there were a few gaps, but they still think this is a good plan.”

Mitton said she would be helping to organize community meetings so that people will be ready to suggest their own solutions if Higgs keeps his promise to visit the town to discuss health-care reforms.

“Successive governments have threatened this hospital,” she said, “and our community continues to stand up and say ‘no, we deserve to have health care services in our rural communities. We will not accept losing the health care services that we need and deserve.'”

L-R: Sylvia Morice, Barb Wheaton (behind), Faye Hicks and Les Hicks hold placards criticizing Premier Higgs and Horizon CEO Karen McGrath

Two doctors speak out

Recently retired family doctor Ross Thomas told the rally that the plan to cut hospital services in Sackville was what he termed “at best, half-baked.”

He wondered how the already overcrowded emergency room at the Moncton Hospital could cope with an influx of patients from Sackville and pointed out that Moncton patients now travel to the Sackville ER to avoid long wait times in the city.

Dr. Ross Thomas

“What is the justification for closing the OR (operating room) in Sackville?” Thomas asked.  “Is there an OR in Moncton empty, staffed, waiting to take the capacity from Sackville?”

He answered a chorus of “Nos” from the crowd with a resounding “No” of his own.

“Is there compelling evidence that our OR is expensive?” he asked. “No evidence presented,” he answered.

“And finally, is there evidence that doing health care in cities is good for rural Canadians? Absolutely to the contrary,” he said, noting that the TransCanada highway runs both ways between Moncton and Sackville.

“Since 80 to 90% of health care costs are generated in our three big cities, it would seem to me to make sense to look there if you’re trying to save money,” Dr. Thomas concluded.

He ended by introducing his medical colleague Allison Dysart who, he said, has been told by the Horizon Health Network not to speak publicly about the planned hospital cuts.

Dr. Dysart himself said he was not speaking on behalf of anyone other than himself.

“Hopefully, this disclaimer will keep me from getting fired,” he added.

Dysart pointed out that generations of “dedicated townspeople, nurses and doctors” had created the Sackville hospital over the last hundred years or so.

“It wasn’t Blaine Higgs that built this hospital,” he said. “It was the people of Sackville that built this with help from the government.”

He added that it had been a “really hard week” for all staff at the hospital including “the dedicated, fantastic nurses I work with, many of whom were sent layoff notices on Friday,” he said to audible gasps from the crowd.

“What a farce,” Dysart said.

Dr. Allison Dysart

He noted that the Sackville emergency room was closed overnight Friday because only seven doctors are left to cover 14 ER shifts a week.

“And despite the numbers that the government and Horizon were citing about how many patients register in our emergency room after midnight, the fact is that we often don’t get finished up until two or three in the morning with patients who registered well before midnight,” Dysart said, adding that those patients are not included in the official statistics.

He warned that many more ER closures are likely, adding that mismanagement by successive provincial governments has resulted in an “an acute shortage of doctors and nurses with no quick solution in sight.”

Dysart said that “top-down” organizations like the Horizon Health Network always talk about the need for better communication, but never seem willing to listen to the concerns and ideas of medical staff.

“Communication is a two-way process,” he added, “so, my plea is for decision-makers to try this other, rare part of communication, the listening part and then maybe we can find some real solutions to our health-care challenges without scapegoating people who live in rural New Brunswick.”

Mt. A. concerns

Robert Inglis, Vice President of Finance at Mount Allison told the rally that the university’s 2,100 students as well as its 500 faculty and staff need access to a 24-hour hospital emergency room.

He pointed out that Mt. A. is primarily an undergraduate university with students in the 18-24 age range — a group at risk for the onset of mental-health issues that could require the need for medical help 24/7.

“In addition, as we all know, the majority of our students don’t have cars and have moved to Sackville away from their families to attend university,” Inglis added, “so, emergency care within walking distance is essential.”

He said the lack of such care would severely hamper Mt. A’s student recruitment efforts.

“The prospect of significantly reduced emergency services represents a real threat to recruit and retain students to our campus from New Brunswick, from across Canada and indeed from around the world,” Inglis said.

To listen to the speeches at the rally click on the media player below. The moderator, who introduces the speakers, is Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken. The recording begins with remarks by Mayor John Higham.


Posted in Health care, New Brunswick government, New Brunswick politics, Town of Sackville | Tagged | 1 Comment