The province says it will cut emergency-room operating hours at six New Brunswick hospitals and convert acute-care beds to long-term care beds in response to a shortage of staff and beds.
Starting March 11, the six emergency rooms will close from midnight to 8 a.m. and will not accept patients after 10 p.m., the government announced Tuesday. Patients in need of acute or hospital care will not be admitted to those hospitals.
Hospitals that are affected are:
- Sussex Health Centre.
- Sackville Memorial Hospital, where surgical services will also close and be shifted to Moncton.
- Hotel-Dieu of St. Joseph in Perth-Andover.
- Stella-Maris-de-Kent Hospital in Sainte-Anne-de-Kent.
- Enfant-Jésus Hospital in Caraquet.
- Grand Falls General Hospital.
“It should come as no surprise to anyone in this province, that our health-care system, is facing a crisis,” said Health Minister Ted Flemming.
“That status quo is simply not acceptable because the status quo leads to deterioration.”
The province said cutting overnight ER hours at the six hospitals will free up more doctors to work during the day, when demand for service is higher.
A nurse practitioner will be added to the day shift at each of these hospitals as well.
In January, the province announced the creation of 32 new nurse-practitioner positions to reduce the burden on hospital emergency departments. The six nurse practitioners were part of that announcement.
Not many visits overnight
“The reality is that on average these emergency departments saw only five patients per night and most of these cases were not emergencies in critical situations such as trauma, heart attacks and strokes,” Karen McGrath, CEO of Horizon Health, said of the three Horizon hospitals affected.
Each hospital is also within 75 kilometres of another emergency room in the province.
McGrath and Vitalité CEO Gilles Langeigne said a doctor sees 20 to 25 patients on average during the day, and the changes will allow more patients to be seen.
In explaining the switch from acute to long-term care, the CEOs said many of the beds at these hospitals are already being used for that purpose anyway as patients wait an average of 90 days for long-term care beds elsewhere.
Now these units will be renovated, get dining rooms, social activities and recreation.
“This will improve the care that we provide to these patients by reducing the time that they are spending in their beds,” the CEOs said. “We hope to keep them healthier longer.”
More mental health services
The regional health authorities are also reviewing “several service areas” to address wait times, aging population, rising demand for mental health services.
Mental health services will be added to all six hospitals.
The regional health authorities are also looking at a centralized co-ordination and referral system for specialists to reduce surgical wait times across the province, and whether to continue doing surgeries in these six hospitals.
The new ER hours have already been in effect in Oromocto since 2002. St. Joseph’s Hospital in Saint John also has an ER operating on these hours.
According to the release, 58 per cent of ER visits in New Brunswick could be addressed by a family doctor or a nurse practitioner. The percentage rises to 70 per cent in smaller hospitals.
Premier’s case for change
Premier Blaine Higgs has pointed to 23 different service interruptions in the province last year. He said an aging population, a mental health crisis and a labour shortage in the system mean the system is no longer sustainable the way it is now.
Last fall, Vitalité was forced to close emergency services, surgeries and other services at the Campbellton Regional Hospital because of a lack of staff and beds.
Online petitions were already circulating Monday morning in communities such as Sussex and Sackville to defend services at their local hospitals.
And in Caraquet, about 40 people spoke outside the L’Hôpital de l’Enfant-Jésus RHSJ, including local Liberal MLA Isabelle Thériault, Acadie-Bathurst Liberal MP Serge Cormier and most members of the town council.