New Brunswick government reverses decision to close emergency rooms

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On February 11, the P.C. government under Premier Blaine Higgs announced that they would be closing six emergency rooms in rural hospitals across the province between the hours of 12 a.m. and 8 a.m. as of March 11. They included the following communities: Sackville, Sussex, Perth-Andover, Ste-Anne-de-Kent, Caraquet, and Grand Falls.

From left to right: Horizon Health CEO Karen McGrath, Health Minister Ted Flemming, Vitalite Health CEO Gilles Lanteigne. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Update: On February 18, the government made another announcement reversing their previous decisions to close the six emergency rooms. In a statement released on Facebook, Premier Higgs stated that the government will be conducting meetings with rural communities in April and May to discuss the issues of gaps in the healthcare system. He also stated that the government will be hosting a healthcare summit in June to develop a “strategy to ensure a sustainable and reliable public health-care system for the future”, with the results to be released to the public in the fall.

According to the announcement by Health Minister Ted Flemming, those communities would in turn be receiving more mental health services, and 120 acute care beds would be converted to long-term care beds for seniors waiting for room in a long-term healthcare facility. Flemming also stated that these changes were recommended by the province’s two health authorities, Horizon Health and Vitalite, and the changes were not made to save money. 

According to Horizon Health CEO Karen McGrath, these six facilities only saw an average of five patients per night, with most of the cases being non-emergencies. Her and Vitalite CEO Gilles Lanteigne also stated that these particular ERs were chosen as they are all within 75 km of another hospital with a 24-hour emergency department.  

There has been much backlash since the announcement. The Liberal, People’s Alliance, and Green Party leaders all have stated their opposition to the government’s plan. Even P.C. MLAs have expressed concern over the decision, including Sussex MLA Bruce Northrup and Robert Gauvin, who stepped down as deputy premier and became an independent. Many protests have been held outside the affected hospitals since the announcement was made.