Two more RNs, four more ER docs needed to bring back 24-7 emergency department in Sackville

A bald man wearing a white collared shirt and V-neck sweater with dark coloured stripes gestures as he speaks in council chambers.
Former Sackville mayor John Higham, co-chair of the Rural Health Action Group speaking to Sackville town councillors on Tuesday, November 8, 2022. Screenshot:
Erica Butler - CHMA - SackvilleNB | 10-01-2023
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Horizon Health Network says it has recruited and onboarded five registered nurses (RNs) to the Sackville Memorial Hospital emergency department, and that there are now five nurse practitioners working in the department.

But there’s still more new staff needed before the emergency department can return to 24-7 service. In a statement released Monday, the health network says it needs two more RNs and four emergency physicians in order to safely resume regular hours at the Sackville ER. In total, Horizon says that 19 of 24 RN positions are currently filled at the hospital, which includes the emergency department and the Brunswick inpatient unit.

“I’m really pleased to see that they’ve taken this step,” says Rural Health Action Group co-chair John Higham, “to put the data out there, and commit to collaborating.”

The Horizon communiqué also gave an update on plans for renovations at the hospital including construction of a second operating room, renovations to the existing operating room, and repairs and renovations to a section of the ER which sustained flood damage during Hurricane Fiona in September. All those renovations are expected to begin by late spring.

Higham says the $2 million capital investment by Horizon is a sign that the network is “looking at how rural hospitals can help the bigger ones.” The second OR theatre will enhance surgical access for the region, says Horizon, “providing additional capacity for orthopedic surgeries such as hip and knee replacements and, potentially, a wider variety of surgical procedures moving forward.”

The plan includes making it possible for patients to remain overnight in in-patient units for certain procedures.

Collaborative model to be used as a template

Horizon’s release includes comments touting “the collaborative model of community engagement” being used in Sackville, and says it is “being used as a template for building sustainable rural health care opportunities in other New Brunswick communities.”

Higham says the RHAG is now working on “collaboration 2.0”, which includes other steps to ensure that, “once everything’s achieved, that we can continue to not have to fight. We can just work with a health system and work on our health outcomes in this area.”

Higham says Horizon is currently looking at a vision document prepared by RHAG looking at the types of health care services needed in the region. He’s also interested in finding ways to enshrine the community’s role in managing its health care.

“It’s not stuff that we had initially thought of when we were really fighting for the hospital,” says Higham. “But now that we’re starting to see some of those steps being taken, there is the logical of, what are the services going to be within that? What do we do throughout the new Tantramar and Strait Shores area in terms of preventative and health clinics? And how do they all come together?”

Higham says the goal is a general improvement in health outcomes in rural areas like Sackville. “If we’re able to bring a network of health services throughout this area tied to a Sackville Memorial Hospital, tied to new physicians and nurses and nurse practitioners, and then to the larger provincial system, we should have the opportunity to actually help the province save money,” says Higham.

Horizon’s affirmation of the role of the RHAG in turning around the prospects of the Sackville hospital is not lost on Higham. “What I saw in the Horizon release [Monday], was that they recognize that this is a very positive way,” to help solve the health care delivery issues in communities, says Higham. “If this all comes to fruition, we really do want to see that local people or local voices get to be heard in the future governance of Horizon.”