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The Sussex Health Centre. Image: Twitter/Horizon Health Network

Sussex ER Temporarily Cuts Overnight Hours

By Brad Perry Sep 6, 2022 | 12:58 PM

Residents in the Sussex area will be without their local emergency department during late evening and overnight hours for the foreseeable future.

Starting next Monday, Sept. 12, the ER at the Sussex Health Centre will be closed from 8:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. daily.

Horizon Health said the “temporary” change in hours comes amid staffing challenges, namely when it comes to a lack of physicians.

Dr. Brian O’Neill, a family physician in Sussex, said they are disappointed this had to happen, but “something had to give.”

O’Neill said the bulk of their ER physicians come from the emergency department in Saint John, which found itself unexpectedly short six to seven physicians.

“They don’t have enough manpower to keep their own shifts fully staffed,” O’Neill told reporters on Tuesday.

“We feel for our patients. We know how important having emergency room coverage is and it’s really just the sickest of the sick that come to the emerg in the middle of the night.”

Figures provided by Horizon Health showed there were 17,856 visits to the Sussex emergency department in 2021-22 — an average of 49 per day.

A total of 2,612 patients — accounting for about seven per day — visited the ER between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Just over 45 per cent of those patients were triaged as Level 1 (resuscitation), Level 2 (emergent) or Level 3 (urgent).

The change in hours comes two-and-a-half years after the Higgs government tried to close emergency rooms overnight in Sussex and five other communities.

But the plan, which was part of the government’s health-care reforms, was later scrapped following outcry and protests.

Margaret Melanson, the interim president and CEO of Horizon Health, said there are no plans to make this change permanent.

“I would like to give the Sussex residents my personal commitment that we have an absolute intention to restore their 24/7 emergency department services as quickly as possible,” said Melanson.

“We also need to have a service that is sustainable. We cannot have a situation where we have openings and closures because that is really considered to be unsafe patient care.”

The emergency department in Sussex has faced a number of temporary evening and overnight closures in recent months due to a shortage of staff.

Melanson said it is actively recruiting physicians and nurses to the community to join the Sussex Health Centre’s emergency department, among other teams, noting it recently hired a new nurse practitioner for the area.

The health authority has also started organizing a community action group that will be made up of many community members, she said, including municipal business leaders, staff, and a patient experience advisor.

“We believe a collaborative effort and involvement from our partners will help us to address this situation as quickly as possible,” said Melanson.

Horizon is also looking at ways to increase the use of the health centre’s operating room and its ambulatory care services, she said.

Unlike the proposed health-care reforms in early 2020, Melanson said there will be no changes to the number of acute care beds in Sussex.

Melanson said they hope to restore 24/7 ER service within a year, adding they should be able to give a more definitive date later this fall.


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