Cuts to hospital services described as temporary risk harming the vibrancy that helps attract people to move to Sackville or remain there, Mount Allison University's faculty association president says.
Erin Steuter said in an interview that a lot of people coming to New Brunswick want to work remotely from a vibrant community like Sackville.
"That's going to be challenging to sustain or maintain if this becomes an area that doesn't provide the kinds of services that people expect," Steuter said.
The Mount Allison Faculty Association recently sent a letter to the provincial government calling for preserving and enhancing services at the Sackville Memorial Hospital.
In December, Horizon Health Network announced it would be closing the hospital's acute care beds and sending patients to Moncton. The beds were converted to care for people waiting for long-term care because of what Horizon said was a staff shortage.
No timeline was given for restoring the service.
It followed a "temporary" cut to the hospital's emergency room weekend overnight hours last June attributed to vacant nursing positions. Horizon announced last fall the ER would only be open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. At the time, Horizon said it only had six doctors to cover the shifts when it normally would have nine.
"Our members are quite concerned about the persistence of some of the closures that have been happening at the Sackville hospital," Steuter said of the university's faculty.
Horizon hasn't given a timeline for when the services will be restored. It's unclear if there has been any progress toward filling the vacant positions.
The health authority didn't provide an interview.
The changes led to protests in the community and concerns they represented implementing plans the Progressive Conservative government scrapped in 2020 in response to a public outcry.
Steuter said the hospital and health care come up in job interviews that members sit in on.
"It's already a bit of a sell to try to get people to come to commit to a very small community and then to find out that there is already the likelihood that they'll be on a wait list to get to a family doctor," Steuter said.
The recommendation had been for those awaiting a family doctor to visit the hospital if there's a pressing health issue.
"Then to kind of have that safety net pulled out, many people are really concerned about whether this is going to be the right place for them to come to under those circumstances."
The association has asked the government whether there's anything its members or the university can do to assist with the situation.
Community group 'feels encouraged'
A community task force that's seeking to help with recruitment efforts recently issued a news release with a more optimistic outlook.
"We feel encouraged," John Higham, co-chair of the Memramcook-Tantramar Rural Health Action Group and former mayor of Sackville, said in the release this week.
"Year-end meetings with the Horizon Health Network have given us hope that the cutbacks against which we protested last year will indeed be temporary."
The releaslel said Horizon has agreed to assist the group in marketing efforts to recruit and retain doctors, nurses, and support staff for health care in the region.
Current Sackville Mayor Shawn Mesheau echoed that hope in an interview.
"We're feeling positive as regional mayors and feeling positive, rural health action groups, feeling positive and the fact of the engagement that's happening and the work that's taking place.
Mesheau said there remains no timeline for restoration of services.
"We'll continue to forge ahead with that and make the folks — the health department and Horizon — understand that this is still an urgent matter here, no matter what else is happening and all hands need to be on deck as well to move it forward," Mesheau said.
Mesheau said they understand the fifth wave of COVID-19 is further reducing capacity in the health system with so many health care workers getting sick.
Both the mayor and Steuter pointed to a recent snowstorm, when an ambulance was called in the community during a time when the ER was closed and the storm had shut down the Trans-Canada Highway.
"People definitely were extremely concerned about that exact situation," Steuter said.