N.B. government and Vitalité meet over closure of obstetrics unit in Bathurst

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N.B. government and Vitalité meet over closure of obstetrics unit in Bathurst
WATCH: The obstetrics unit at the Chaleur Regional Hospital is still closed, and after more than three weeks, there's still no indication of when it will reopen. As Morganne Campbell reports, the provincial government is stepping in – Nov 29, 2018

If you’re expecting in the Bathurst area, it’s unlikely you’ll be delivering your bundle of joy here at the Chaleur Regional Hospital. The obstetrics unit was closed down at the beginning of the month.

“Was it the best decision to make? In the situation that they were in, it was because it was about the safety of the patients and it was about the safety of the nurses,” explains Paula Doucet, the president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union.

The reason behind the closure was simple — there simply aren’t enough nurses.

The CEO of Vitalité Health Network, the region’s health authority, was unavailable to comment on the closure but the network says it has sent nurses to Miramichi and Moncton for obstetrical training. It’s training that government officials say is important and valuable but agree that there’s a bigger issue that needs to be looked at.

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“There is a nursing shortage, there is a doctor shortage, there is a lot of shortage,” explains Ted Flemming, the province’s minister of health.

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“We have had upwards of 40,000 New Brunswickers who were born between 1980 and 1999 who have left the province… those people are gone and we have an aging population that is not being replaced by younger people. So this is the real gathering storm here that there is a significant labour shortage.”

The minister is meeting with the CEO of Vitalité and two Liberal MLAs from the Bathurst area to determine best ways to move forward.

“We’re going to have to face it, we’re going to have to deal with it, and we cannot like previous governments have done — kick the ball downfield — and hope it’s just going to go away,” added Flemming.

Liberal MLA Brian Kenny says he’d like the hospital and nurses union come to some sort of solution to the mounting problem.

“It is definitely a very important service to have for the greater Chaleur region and I know they’re working diligently to have the training,” says Kenny.

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The president of the union representing nurses says meetings are important but sticking Band-Aids on the problem won’t heal health-care pains.

“As we know, 41 per cent of our nursing workforce is eligible to retire in the next five years and there’s been no real concrete plan put in place to backfill those that are going to be going out the door soon,” added Doucet.

The union says it hasn’t met with the government just yet but they have met with People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin who appears to have some solutions of his own.

“Better education programs in our public colleges and universities, a little more funding to help with retention and hiring permanent fulltime nurses,” added Austin.

Being Canada’s oldest province with an aging and declining population, a solution to New Brunswick’s health-care woes need to be front and centre, according to those who are on the front lines of health care.

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