Hospital ER hours cut all summer for Perth-Andover, Tobique First Nation

·3 min read
Hotel-Dieu of St. Joseph serves about 12,000 people in Perth-Andover, Tobique First Nation and its surrounding communities.  (CBC - image credit)
Hotel-Dieu of St. Joseph serves about 12,000 people in Perth-Andover, Tobique First Nation and its surrounding communities. (CBC - image credit)

Horizon Health Network is reducing the hours at Hotel-Dieu of St. Joseph in Perth-Andover because of a critical nurse shortage.

The emergency department at the hospital will be changing its hours starting Friday until September.

Emergency services will now be offered from Monday to Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., the health authority said in an email. The emergency room previously operated 24 hours a day.

Horizon Health said the hospital has been experiencing "critical nursing shortages" and "recruitment challenges" for over a year, despite efforts to fill vacancies.

The hospital, which serves more than 10,000 people, including Tobique First Nation and surrounding communities, has had a nurse shortage for years, causing bed closures and public concern.

If there's a medical emergency outside the new hours, patients will need to seek treatment at another hospital, and all ambulances will be diverted, Horizon said.

Ambulance New Brunswick has a new protocol for diverting patients after hours, said the release, which did not name the hospitals the patients will be diverted to.

In response to a request for an interview, Horizon sent a list of questions answered by Nicole Tupper, executive director for Horizon's Fredericton region.

Community concerned, but not surprised

Marianne Bell, the mayor of Perth-Andover, said she was told the news Thursday, the day before the changes came into effect. She said she and her community are concerned about what this means for their health, but they're not surprised.

"Horizon Health and the Department of Health have been talking about the looming nursing shortage for a long time," she said.

Bell said this makes her wonder why there still isn't a solution to the recruitment issues.

"What about doubling or tripling the number of seats in nursing programs or tuition packages or recruitment of the nurses who live in New Brunswick who are working, you know, fly in, fly out? Or working across the border in Maine or Nova Scotia?" she said.

"Where are these enthusiastic, aggressive recruiting and training initiatives that we would have expected them to have been launching like years ago?"

Shane Fowler/CBC
Shane Fowler/CBC

Bell said the closest two hospitals are one in Grand Falls, which is about 40 kilometres away, or the Upper River Valley Hospital in Waterville, close to Hartland. That one is 45 minutes away, she said.

"I don't imagine the people that are living down there in Carleton County are going to be happy to have a whole bunch more people from our area coming down there," she said.

She said she's worried about what this means for ambulance availability, if one emergency call means a two-hour round trip.

Recruitment efforts

In the list, Tupper said the authority has been "actively" seeking more nurses.

One new nurse will join Hotel-Dieu in late August once she has her New Brunswick licence, Tupper said.

"We have offered financial incentives specific to [Hotel-Dieu of St, Joseph] along with some other hard-to-recruit to areas for RNs who have expressed an interest in working in Horizon."

Tupper said Horizon has also increased its presence on social media and employment websites.

The health network is working to restore 24-hour service "as soon as we are able to safely do so," she said.

CBC contacted Ambulance NB about where patients will be taken but has not yet had a response.

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