Staff shortages at two New Brunswick hospitals are prompting temporary closures of their labour and obstetrics units.
Officials with Vitalité Health Network said Wednesday that the Campbellton Regional Hospital's obstetrics and gynecology department will be temporarily closed for six to eight weeks in order to redirect staff to the hospital's emergency department.
And on Thursday, Horizon Health Network announced that the Upper River Valley Hospital, near Woodstock, will be closing its labour and birth unit from Friday at 3 p.m. AT to Monday at 7 am.
The closure means babies can't be delivered there, and women will have to travel to the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton for all pregnancy-related services during that time.
The closure of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the Campbellton Regional Hospital follows the suspension of various services at the hospital in previous years, including its delivery service, which was announced as a temporary move in 2019 but has continued.
Expectant mothers must instead travel to the Chaleur Regional Hospital, which is about 100 kilometres away, in Bathurst to give birth.
Charlo Mayor Gaétan Pelletier, who was appointed to help Vitalité Health Network address the staffing shortages at the Campbellton Regional Hospital, said "there are surely difficulties in recruiting."
But he does believe it is doable, he told Radio-Canada on Wednesday.
"I believe that if we get our hands dirty, we can probably succeed in improving this aspect," Pelletier said.
Brad Mann, chair of the Restigouche Regional Service Commission, said he's worried about the latest reduction of service at the Campbellton Regional Hospital and wants to see a resumption of all the services usually available there.
"This is not a good sign," he said in an interview with Radio-Canada.
At the same time, Mann said, he recognizes that staff shortages are not unique to the Restigouche region, with Edmundston and the Acadian Peninsula also in need of doctors.
The suspension of services at the two hospitals also comes amid a reduction in operating hours for hospital emergency departments across the province, including at the Sackville Memorial Hospital, where overnight emergency room service on the weekend was suspended indefinitely earlier this year.
Shortage not likely to improve anytime soon, says union
Paula Doucet, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, has been raising alarms for months about the shortage of nurses in the province.
"I don't think we'll see an improvement in the immediate future simply because nurses have continued to work large hours of overtime because of the pandemic, which we're still in," she said.
Among the province's two health authorities, as well as within the New Brunswick Extra-Mural Program, there are close to 1,000 vacancies in nursing positions, said Doucet, adding she represents about 6,900 nurses in the province.
She said nurses have logged a higher than normal number of overtime hours as they work to fill in for those vacant positions.
Doucet said the two health authorities reported nurses worked 153,000 hours of paid overtime for all of 2020. Meanwhile, for just the first half of 2021, nurses already worked about 192,000 hours of paid overtime.
"I think the shortage is very prevalent no matter where we are in the province," Doucet said.
"It's obvious whether you're in the the northeast or you're in the upper [St. John] River valley or in central or, you know, southeast [New Brunswick].
"I think our facilities are feeling it — that there are not enough registered nurses to maintain service in every facility across the province and it's only shown by the disruption of service within labour and birth and gynecology, obstetrics."