About 250 people attended a noon-time rally today to protest against cuts to services at Sackville Memorial Hospital.
“We love our hospital and we love our community,” former Hospital Foundation Chair Elaine Smith told the rally.
She said she had “a pretty simple message” for Premier Higgs, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard and Horizon Health CEO John Dornan.
“Stop messing with our hospital,” she said to cheers and sustained applause.
“By messing with our hospital, you are undermining our entire community, you are undermining our university and we are angry about this.”
Other speakers at the rally expressed their anger too.
“Once again we are facing the future of our hospital being under attack and I wish it wasn’t that way,” said Sackville Mayor Shawn Mesheau.
“We are exhausted, exhausted from this pandemic, exhausted from having to fight this fight every few years.
Mesheau, who said he was speaking from his heart, made it clear that town council is fully behind the blistering letter sent to the premier, health minister and Horizon CEO by members of the Rural Health Action Group which is fighting to get emergency room and acute care services fully restored.
His voice rising in indignation, the mayor castigated the government and Horizon for “continuing to whittle away at our hospital” and he urged people attending the rally to write their own letters and e-mails to the premier, health minister and Horizon CEO.
“Your voices need to be heard and they do matter,” Mesheau said. “There needs to be a hospital plan in place that survives the whims of election cycles,” he added.
“A fully functioning hospital for the health of our community is the foundation on which to build everything else: education, business, the environment and our families and our neighbourhoods,” he said to cheers and applause.
The mayors of Port Elgin, Memramcook and Dorchester told the rally that it’s crucial to preserve services at the hospital and Fort Folly Chief Rebecca Knockwood also sent a message pledging support.
Former Sackville Mayor John Higham, who is co-chair of the Rural Health Action Group, said the hospital was built by the people of Sackville and was managed locally.
“It was our hospital and it has been gradually merged into a corporate body that doesn’t pay any attention to that anymore,” he added.
“We today feel disrespected and I share that feeling with you,” Higham said.
“The letter we wrote reflected that feeling of disrespect, that they weren’t listening, that they weren’t ready to hear, that they were confused about what they were doing.”
Higham said it was heartening to see so many at the rally.
“It’s time to be heard. It’s time to take it [the hospital] back, it’s time to make sure it runs the way we need it and we want it.
“We are concerned and we are frustrated,” Hannah Ehler, Vice President of the Mount Allison Students’ Union told the rally.
“Not only are there reduced health care services at the hospital, I am concerned about that, but I am also concerned about where they are going.
“Moncton is quite inaccessible for a lot of our students,” she said, “who do not always have access to vehicles to get there in the case of an urgent situation.”
Ehler said she worries about Mt. A. athletes who may sustain injuries at times when the ER in Sackville is closed.
She added that in spite of letters to the government from the students’ union and individual students, hospital services continue to be cut.
“We are wondering too where is the urgency behind this situation, why is this not being treated as critical as it is?”
Along with many other speakers at the rally, Ehler expressed gratitude for the efforts of workers at the hospital dedicated to helping people through the “nightmare” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All of us know that you deserve better,” she said. “Know that we thank you and as we fight and we advocate in our own ways, we are always thinking of you.
Retired Sackville doctor Ross Thomas noted that what he called “the hemorrhaging of staff” is continuing at the hospital.
“As the critical mass of nurses and physicians continues to shrink, we feel the existence of the hospital is threatened and this poses a far greater threat to the health of our community than the virus,” he said.
“But the response from Horizon and the government is that this is just the common cold,” he added.
“Where is the circuit breaker to stop this bleeding?”
Former Town Councillor Joyce O’Neil and Audrey Hicks, Chair of the Hospital Auxiliary spoke about the millions of dollars that have been raised over the years by the Auxiliary and the Hospital Foundation to provide much-needed equipment at Sackville Memorial.
Hicks, who worked as a nurse in the hospital for 44 years, mentioned a $34,000 day surgery monitoring system that the Auxiliary just purchased.
“I would imagine that our management at the present time can’t remember when an item was bought by the government for our hospital,” she said to a round of applause.
When O’Neil, who is also a member of the Auxiliary, mentioned the purchase of a dishwasher, Hicks said: “Tell them about the lawn mower.”
O’Neil replied that when the hospital’s mower broke, Horizon refused to buy a new one.
She added that after the Auxiliary and Foundation chipped in two-thirds of the cost, Horizon finally agreed to pony up the rest.
“So our lawns are now mowed,” O’Neil said as the crowd laughed, applauded and cheered.
Veteran Sackville journalist Wallie Sears said in an interview after the rally that he attended it to protest against “what is being foisted upon us by this government in Fredericton.”
He said that when Premier Higgs first announced cuts in hospital services nearly two years ago, three Sackville nurses resigned immediately.
Sears added that he has depended on the hospital himself, most recently last year when his wife died there.
He paused for a moment before continuing.
“I’ve had several surgeries myself and spent time in this hospital and it’s a marvellous one and the care that’s given by the nurses is amazing.”
Bruce Wark worked in broadcasting and journalism education for more than 35 years. He was at CBC Radio for nearly 20 years as senior editor of network programs such as The World at Six and World Report. He currently writes for The New Wark Times where this story first appeared on December 8, 2021.