'I fear that it is going to get worse before it gets better': More overnight ER closures in New Brunswick

The number of emergency rooms in New Brunswick providing 24-hour service continues to decline as hospitals across the province face nursing shortages.

The latest is Hotel-Dieu of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Perth-Andover.

As of Friday, the Horizon Health Network is reducing the hours at the emergency department to Monday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"This is terrible news for us," says Perth-Andover’s Mayor Marianne Bell.

The busy hospital has experienced a nurse shortage for years. It serves the village and the surrounding areas.

"We know that the emergency rooms at the Waterville Hospital and the hospital in Fredericton…we hear terrible things about how long the line ups are, and how many hours people wait. We’ve heard tragedies resulting from this,' says Bell.

But the reduced hours don’t come as a shock to the New Brunswick Nurses Union.

“It’s a result of the fact that we don’t have enough human resources to deliver health care to this province,” said Paula Doucet, union president.

The staffing shortage at hospitals is widespread, as those living in more rural areas of the province have to drive out of town to seek urgent care or rely on ambulances to divert them elsewhere.

"I was notified of another nurse that left the Moncton Hospital and has chosen to go work at the penitentiary. Her statement was that 'I feel safer working at Dorchester Penitentiary than I did at the hospital',” says Doucet.

In June, Horizon Health decided to close Oromocto’s emergency department after 4 p.m.

While Sackville’s hospital also notified residents of overnight closures on weekends throughout the summer due to nursing shortages.

"A lot of these positions that we're facing in Sackville is the fact that they are temporary vacancies, so to be able to fill temporary and not knowing if it’s going to be one month, two months, 6 months, it’s very difficult to attract a person,” says Sackville’s Mayor Shawn Mesheau.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said the province has “recruitment challenges just like every other province in Canada” and hiring more nurses is an ongoing process.

"They need time off this summer,” says Shephard.

"We have to give them that reprieve, and so we have said that there will be temporary, probably some overnight closures at ERs in order to support that."

"They deserve to have relief," she said.

Though labelled temporary, many are urging the province to provide a long-term strategy that will prevent ER closures from happening in the future.

"Until we made some drastic changes in the delivery model, and we do some aggressive recruiting and we have some serious commitment in changing the working conditions, I fear that it is going to get worse before it gets better," said Doucet.