A decision to temporarily close nurse practitioner clinics in the Saint John area and redeploy staff to COVID testing sites has sparked concern for the patients who will be left without primary care for the next two weeks.
Staff at several clinics were told Thursday that their clinics would be closed starting today and that staff will instead report to work at COVID vaccination and assessment centres, the president of Nurse Practitioners of New Brunswick says.
Thousands of patients at six clinics — the Saint John Uptown Health Centre, North End Wellness Centre, Market Place Wellness Centre, HOPE Wellness Centre, the Saint John Sexual Health Centre and the Charlotte County Wellness Centre in St. Stephen — are affected by the temporary closures, Raelyn Lagacé said in an interview Sunday.
"This means that these patients no longer have access to their primary care provider for the next two weeks. So their only access to care will be walk-ins and ERs," Lagacé said.
In an email Monday, Horizon Health Network said the redeployments to assessment and vaccination centres were prompted by a "growing surge in demand caused by the recent rise in COVID activity" in the province.
"Patients will be contacted to reschedule their appointments," Horizon community vice-president Jean Daigle said in the email, noting "we are working with the NPs to ensure that urgent cases can be seen as required."
NPs 'worried about their patients'
In the meantime, Lagacé said she is hearing from many upset nurse practitioners at the affected clinics.
"They're worried about their patients," she said. "You're looking at thousands of patients without access to care now ... a lot of vulnerable patients, a lot of sick patients. A lot of things are going to go unanswered for the next two weeks."
Lagacé stressed that the nurse practitioners understand the challenge facing the province in the weeks ahead, with rising COVID case numbers and predicted surges of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
It's not a matter of not wanting to help out, she said.
But with health-care staffing resources already stretched thin, they wonder if there might be better ways to manage the problem.
Lagacé held up Nova Scotia as an example, where she said volunteers are heavily leaned on to assist at COVID assessment centres.
"I know we do that here, but to what extent?" she said.
Lagacé said she isn't sure whether that was already discussed and ruled out, noting there was no consultation with the clinics or with Nurse Practitioners of New Brunswick.
"Horizon is going to do whatever they deem necessary," she said, but consultation "would have been greatly appreciated."
"There's got to be other ways than completely closing down these clinics ... a lot of these patients would continue to have some access to care if there was some consulting done, some planning done."
Closure dates for each clinic
In an email Monday, Horizon confirmed the closure dates, which are different for each clinic, as follows:
Uptown Saint John Health Centre, closed for two weeks starting Dec. 20, reopens Jan. 4
North End Wellness Centre, closed Dec. 20, 22, 23, 29 and 31
Market Place Wellness Centre, closed Dec. 20, 22, 23, 29, 31
HOPE Wellness Centre, closed Dec. 20, 22, 29
Saint John Sexual Health Centre, walk-in appointments unavailable on Dec. 23
Charlotte County Wellness Centre, closed on Dec. 23