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Sackville, N.B., petition calls on province to reconsider hospital service cuts

THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Molly Riley

The list of signatures on a petition in Sackville, N.B., calling on the province to reserve changes to services at the Sackville Memorial Hospital has more signatures than the town has residents.

Kellie Mattatall, a resident of Sackville, started the online petition, which had more than 6,000 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.

Mattatall says the province’s decision to cut overnight emergency and surgical services at the hospital is irresponsible.

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“We already know that we don’t have enough paramedics on the ground and we already know that the wait times at our major city centre, the Moncton Hospital and the George Dumont are already astronomical,” said Mattatall.

She says expecting residents to travel to Moncton or Amherst for emergency services after 10 p.m. is unacceptable, especially given that one-quarter of Sackville’s population are seniors and people living in poverty.

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“These are people that won’t necessarily call an ambulance. It is inconvenient and it is costly,” said Mattatall, who plans to present her petition to the province.

Effective March 11, emergency departments in Sussex, Sackville, Perth-Andover, Ste-Anne-de-Kent, Caraquet and Grand Falls will be closed from midnight to 8 a.m.

The six communities will get added mental health services, and 120 acute care beds will be converted to long-term chronic care beds, mainly for seniors awaiting a nursing home bed.

Horizon Health CEO Karen McGrath said the changes will allow physicians and nurse practitioners to see more patients in the daytime.

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“We understand that these changes may cause concern to some since we all know emergencies can happen at any time of the day or night. The reality is that on average, these emergency departments saw only five patients per night and most of these cases were not emergencies,” said McGrath.

Gilles Lanteigne, CEO of Vitalite Health Network, said the province is “coping with a severe shortage of medical professionals, an aging population and increasing mental health needs.”

Premier Blaine Higgs said Monday the government needs to act with a sense of urgency to ensure quality health care is maintained.

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But Mattatall says she wants the province to “return to the table” to discuss other options with the community.

Sackville Mayor John Higham shares some of her concerns.

“If it is wintertime like this kind of weather, people don’t want to go drive to Moncton to try and challenge that to get to the hospital so there are people who will self-diagnose and say, ‘oh, I will wait,'” Higham said.

He said that he too was caught off guard by the announcement since the town was already in consultation with Horizon Health about services that could be added to the hospital to enhance its role in the community.

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“We are trying to create a community that attracts people, attracts students to Mount Allison, attracts professionals and knowledge-based businesses”

Barry Martin moved to Sackville five years ago to open an inn and says the province’s plan to cut overnight ER services and surgeries, and switching acute care beds to long-term care beds for seniors, is a mistake.

“We have a very large university community and they don’t have the ability to travel to Moncton or Amherst so they are going to be stuck,” said Martin.

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The president of Mount Allison’s student union, Emelyana Titarenko, said the student union plans to reach out to the province to share its concerns,

“After midnight, specifically, I am concerned. Students go out sometimes and if there are big accidents that happen … it is usually after those hours where we do need to have some sort of access to emergency care,” Titarenko said.

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Mount Allison University said in a statement e-mailed to Global that it is very concerned by the news of service reductions and realignment that will impact the Sackville Memorial Hospital.

“Of particular concern is the nightly closure of the Emergency Department, announced February 11, and scheduled to come into effect on March 11,” the university added.

“This action is one that affects our entire community who depend on local health-care services — our nearly 2,100 students living on or off-campus throughout their studies, along with 5,500 Sackville residents, and neighboring communities in the Tantramar region.”

According to the university, representatives from Mount Allison are attending a community information session being held Tuesday night in Sackville and will also attend Horizon’s local information session scheduled for Feb. 13 at the Sackville Memorial Hospital to get more information about the impact of the changes and how they will be implemented.

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*With files the Canadian Press