Caraquet residents ask for better walk-in clinic hours, more ambulances in consultation session

·3 min read
Community leaders and others in Caraquet speak to media outside the Enfant-Jésus Hospital following the announcement by the province in February 2020 that nighttime emergency department services there and at five other hospitals would be closed. The plan was later scrapped. (Alix Villeneuve/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Community leaders and others in Caraquet speak to media outside the Enfant-Jésus Hospital following the announcement by the province in February 2020 that nighttime emergency department services there and at five other hospitals would be closed. The plan was later scrapped. (Alix Villeneuve/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Making walk-in clinic hours more flexible.

Delegating work from doctors to other staff.

Putting more ambulances in service.

Those were some of the priorities residents of the Caraquet, N.B. area shared for improving medical care in their area. The priorities were presented during the third in a series of virtual consultation meetings the province is holding as it works to produce a new five-year healthcare plan.

About 80 people participated in the virtual meeting held over Zoom Thursday evening, which was moderated by Stéphane Robichaud, CEO of the New Brunswick Health Council.

The participants were split into nine breakout groups. They were each told to discuss their concerns regarding healthcare in their region, and suggestions for improving it.

Danielle Richard and Julie St-Pierre, two facilitators who spoke on behalf of their group members, said access to walk-in clinics was an issue, with a need for their operating hours to be made more flexible.

"Many clinics have day hours," Richard said, through simultaneous translation. "If we could have more clinics that are open during the evenings and weekends, this could have an effect of having fewer people at the [hospital] ER."

Natalie MacDonald said ambulance service was top of mind for members of her group.

"If someone has a heart attack, it's not quick enough for us to be able to get to a hospital because we need to act right away. And when you're 30 minutes away, and the [ambulance] is not there because they're transporting one patient from a hospital to another one, there are delays," she said.

"So maybe it would be good to have better access, access to more ambulances, or at least have a second ambulance for those cases."

Chantal Sloan, another facilitator, drew comparisons between doctors and dentists. Sloan said there are minor procedures and checkups that dental hygienists do, and the same principle could be applied to physician assistants in order to relieve some of the demands on doctors and improve the time it takes patients to access care.

Just a year ago, Caraquet was one of the communities that would have been impacted by the government's proposed nighttime closure of emergency departments at six hospitals, including at the Enfant-Jésus Hospital.

The announcement in February 2020 sparked outrage in those communities, including among Progressive Conservative MLA's, prompting Premier Blaine Higgs to scrap the proposal.

Robert Gauvin, Liberal Party MLA for Shediac Bay-Dieppe, resigned from his role as deputy premier under Premier Blaine Higgs' government in response to the proposed healthcare reform plan pitched last winter.
Robert Gauvin, Liberal Party MLA for Shediac Bay-Dieppe, resigned from his role as deputy premier under Premier Blaine Higgs' government in response to the proposed healthcare reform plan pitched last winter. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Before he could do so, however, Robert Gauvin, then-MLA for the riding Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou, resigned from his post as deputy premier to sit independently in the legislature. His seat in the legislature was the only one held by the PCs on the Acadian Peninsula.

He later defected to the Liberal Party, and won the seat of Shediac Bay-Dieppe in last fall's election.

Speaking at the start of the virtual meeting Thursday, Higgs reiterated his government's decision not to reduce any hospital ER hours as part of its latest review on healthcare.

He used the opportunity to highlight accomplishments already seen through pilot projects aimed at reducing waiting times for people seeking knee and hip replacements, as well as for people seeking mental health treatment in Campbellton.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs reiterated that he is not revisiting a plan to reduce emergency room hours.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs reiterated that he is not revisiting a plan to reduce emergency room hours. (CBC)

He also took swipes at Ottawa, repeating his and other premiers' argument that the federal government ought to increase the portion of funding offered for healthcare.

"We've talked about reforming healthcare," Higgs said. "We've talked about building a sustainable path forward, or we will be caught in an increasing number of crisis situations across the province.

"By acting now, we can build a safer, more reliable, effective and sustainable healthcare system for all citizens of our province."

The next virtual meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 16 at 6:30 p.m. for the residents of Perth-Andover.