The Sackville hospital emergency room will close overnight on weekends due to a nursing shortage, a move Horizon Health Network calls a temporary measure without an end date.
Effective Friday, the ER will close Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 4 p.m and reopen at 8 a.m. Service on other days will remain 24 hours.
During the closures, patients will be directed to other hospitals. Ambulances will be diverted to either Amherst, N.S., or hospitals in Moncton.
"We are hoping to stabilize the staffing levels by the end of the summer," Horizon's vice-president of clinical services, Geri Geldart, said during a news conference Friday.
"But at this time we do not have a firm end date."
Three of the nine emergency room nursing positions are vacant.
Geldart said nurses at the hospital have worked extra hours and overtime, and have changed their schedules with little notice. While recruitment efforts are underway, Horizon decided the closures are necessary to give staff time off, she said.
"This, coupled with a number of unfilled vacancies, means it is simply no longer possible for us to maintain 24-hour service in the emergency department."
Nancy Parker, executive director of the Sackville hospital, said the ER would see an average of eight to nine patients between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m.
Horizon officials said they've informed Ambulance New Brunswick as well as officials in Nova Scotia about the closure.
Jean-Pierre Savoie, an Ambulance New Brunswick vice-president, said in a statement that it is notifying paramedics and dispatchers of the change.
Savoie said when ambulances are assigned to calls or redirected to other facilities, others from the region are moved so there are still ambulances in the area.
The closure echoes plans, announced last year and then withdrawn, to close ERs at six rural hospitals overnight, though Health Minister Dorothy Shephard emphasized this closure is temporary.
"We need to respect the fact that there are people who need some time off and we need to work through these challenges," Shephard told reporters at the legislature on Friday.
It's not the first time Sackville has temporarily reduced hours due to staffing shortages.
Geldart told reporters that Horizon believes the predictable closures offer less risk than the alternative.
Horizon officials didn't rule out other closures at similar smaller facilities across the province.
"So it is possible," Geldart said. "At this point we haven't announced any other closures, but it is always a concern given the general nursing shortage that we're facing in New Brunswick."
Shephard told CBC's Shift that other similar closures are likely, but perhaps not as long as in Sackville.
Shawn Mesheau, Sackville's mayor, said he's concerned about the impact on residents of the town and the wider region.
But, Mesheau is also concerned about the impact of the pandemic on health care workers.
"Everyone's in need of a rest, all frontline workers are feeling additional stress," Mesheau said.