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Sackville to Moncton: N.B. town councillor’s experience with weekend ER closure

Bruce Phinney, a Sackville town councillor, was forced to drive to Moncton for care after undergoing a kidney stone attack earlier this month. Callum Smith / Global News

With the region’s emergency room closed overnight on weekends, and more recent news that a family doctor would be closing practice, people living in a New Brunswick town are growing increasingly worried about its healthcare situation.

Sackville town councillor Bruce Phinney was recently forced to drive to Moncton for a kidney stone attack.

It might’ve been the first time he had to drive to receive care, but it wasn’t his first attack when he felt the pain earlier this month.

“I knew what it was right from the beginning,” he tells Global News. “Knowing that, after emptying my stomach for a half-hour, realized I could not wait until Monday at 8 o’clock for the ER to open.”

ER closure

In June, the Horizon Health Network announced Sackville Memorial Hospital’s emergency department would close at 4 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout the summer as it tries to combat the ongoing nursing shortage.

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Service resumes at 8 a.m. each day and 24-hour coverage remains throughout the rest of the week.

Read more: Doctor access, transportation: New Brunswick’s first public consultation on health care complete

But with only six of nine registered nurse positions filled at the hospital’s ER at the time, Horizon couldn’t say how long the nighttime closures will last.

“We are hoping to stabilize the staffing levels by the end of the summer, but at this time, we do not have a firm end date,” Geri Geldart, Horizon’s VP Clinical said in a Zoom media availability June 11.

‘I think we do have a crisis’

Thankfully, the town councillor was aware of the closure when he felt the discomfort, so he drove about 40 minutes to Moncton where he was admitted to hospital.

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He says the care was great, but he wishes the drive wasn’t necessary.

“When I consider the ER room is not open 24/7, 365, I think we do have a crisis,” Phinney says.

But for people in Sackville and surrounding communities, it’s not just about the ER closure that’s a concern right now.

It was also recently announced that Dr. Cory Long would be closing his practice at the end of August. Horizon Health confirms he had over 1,300 patients.

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One of those patients was Bob Partridge.

Dr. Long was his doctor for about 10 years, he says.

“He says I don’t shouldn’t have to worry because I have a heart condition,” Partridge says. “And he said as far as he was concerned, I was going to stay a patient of his; he was going to look after anybody with like heart problems, serious problems.”

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While that eased his mind a bit, it’s still a concern for the bigger picture of health care in the region.

“I mean, you still worry some,” he says. “You don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but nobody knows that, I guess.”

Read more: New Brunswick nurse details burnout among province’s health-care workers

But he’s more worried about the ER situation.

Meanwhile, Phinney hopes people report the times they need to drive for care to the town’s health care working group.

“We need the ER room open,” Phinney says. “There’s no if, ands, buts about it.”

Phinney says he’ll discuss the idea of hiring a marketing company to promote the town, for doctor and nurse recruitment purposes, to fellow councillors to see if there’s any interest in the idea.

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