‘I don’t want to feel like an afterthought’: N.B. community reacts to overnight ER closure

Click to play video: 'Sussex residents worried about access to care after ER closure'
Sussex residents worried about access to care after ER closure
WATCH: Sussex residents are worried after the local hospital's emergency room was forced to close overnight indefinitely due to a physician shortage. Members of the community say they fear medical care won't be there when they need it. Nathalie Sturgeon has that story – Sep 7, 2022

Samantha Nickerson calls Sussex home but the continual decline in health services available to her and her family is frustrating.

She lost her family doctor in the community and is often forced to use the emergency department for non-emergent health issues. But that won’t be possible overnight, at least for a while.

On Sept. 6, Horizon Health Network announced it would be closing the Sussex Health Centre emergency department from 8:30 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. daily because of a physician shortage. Margaret Melanson, the interim CEO of HHN, wasn’t able to say when the “temporary” closure would come to an end.

“We would certainly hope it would be less than a year. That would be our absolute hope,” Melanson said on Tuesday through a Zoom conference with reporters.

For Nickerson, it speaks to an ongoing problem for health services in the region.

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Read more: N.B. emergency room in rural community to close overnight, health authority says

“You never really know when it’s going to be opened or closed,” she said. “It’s not predictable. You have to make sure that you actively check to see whether or not our emergency services department is open when you need to access it.”

The nearest hospital is 50 minutes away in Saint John.

“Even if it is not an emergency, health problems do not happen at opportune times,” she said on Wednesday.

She said the worst part is having to prioritize your health-care needs. Nickerson said without a family doctor, her son, who is experiencing anxiety, can’t get help.

“I’m not going to drag him to an ER for nine hours just to start a diagnosis for anxiety,” she said. “Our publicly funded health care should be easy to access.”

Nickerson said this problem isn’t new, but it’s only worsened.

Read more: N.B. emergency medical technicians to assist paramedics, increase ambulance coverage

“We just need to care about it. We should not be putting out a fire in our health-care system after it’s already been created. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” she said.

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She said she’s tried the alternative options, including 811, but in the end, 811 will advise you to seek medical attention. Nickerson said getting an appointment with eVisitNB is hard, with many providers booking up quickly.

She isn’t alone in her concerns about the health-care system in Sussex and the subsequent closure.

Jill Beaulieu was a part of the effort to quash reforms in February 2020 that would have forced the closure of the ER overnight, but also a conversion of the acute care beds into long-term care beds.

She said this feels familiar and it’s not fair to the community.

“Most of the media and everyone else is saying that people here are concerned, people are disturbed. I don’t think either one is the correct adjective, I think people here are fearful,” she said.

According to data from Horizon, on average about seven patients visit the Sussex ER during the hours the hospital will be closed, and more than 45 per cent of those require resuscitation or are urgent.

Beaulieu said she wants clear actionables from Horizon, not just vague promises.

Read more: New Brunswick says its surplus is $100M more than projected in March

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“I don’t think I would have any rock-solid confidence in what they tell me,” she said.

In the end, she said it does seem like Sussex isn’t a priority, falling behind the more major hospitals also experiencing staffing issues.

“Once we have things sorted out here, in Saint John, and in the tertiary hospitals, then things will trickle down to you folks,” she said. “I’m not personally comfortable with being at the bottom of the trickle-down effect. I’m just saying I don’t want to feel like an afterthought.”

Sussex Mayor Marc Thorne said on Tuesday that the health authority leadership has assured him this isn’t a permanent thing, but said he understands why those in the community might feel skeptical.

As of Sept. 12, the Sussex Health Centre emergency department will close at 8:30 p.m. and reopen at 7:30 a.m.

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