Impatient Blaine Higgs dumps Secretary of Health, CEO of Horizon

Premier Blaine Higgs on Friday fired his health secretary and sacked the CEO of one of two health networks in New Brunswick after worsening news on the health front, including a “traumatizing” death in an emergency room waiting room.

Bruce Fitch is now health secretary, swapping places with Dorothy Shephard, who is moving from health to social development, Higgs announced during a news conference Friday afternoon.

Higgs also announced that John Dornan, CEO of the Horizon Health Network, has been fired from his position and temporarily replaced by Margaret Melanson, the network’s vice president of clinical services.

In addition, Higgs said he had resigned from the boards of directors of health networks Horizon and Vitalité, and installed a trustee in each.

CLOCK | “It starts at the top:” Higgs describes changes in healthcare governance

Higgs says he is “appalled” to hear of death in the ER waiting room

The prime minister announced on Friday that he would fire Horizon’s CEO and replace his health minister.

“We have a plan,” Higgs said. “It has to be implemented. The situation we find ourselves in today is the result of many, many years of consecutive governments refusing to deal with urgent situations.”

The shock to New Brunswick’s health leadership comes after a patient was found in the emergency room waiting room at Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital died while awaiting treatment.

Witness John Staples said the man, a senior, waited for hours alone in a wheelchair with visible discomfort when he appeared to fall asleep. It was only during a routine check of people in the waiting room that a hospital worker noticed the man had stopped breathing, he said.

Inquiry into death ordered

Higgs said he was “horrified” to hear a patient died while waiting to be seen in an emergency room.

He said he has asked Horizon Health Network to conduct an investigation into the incident and if he is not satisfied with the results he will ask for an outside review.

John Staples said witnessing the death of a patient in the emergency room waiting room at Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital being on the cusp of care is a “crass and grim realization” that New Brunswick’s healthcare system is “so sadly broken.” (Joe McDonald/CBC)

“I have no doubt that every New Brunswicker is saddened and concerned by this story. We all want to know that if we go to the hospital, we will get the help we need.”

Answering questions from reporters, Higgs said he hopes the investigation will uncover whether any standards of care were not being met at the hospital when the patient died in the waiting room.

However, he was quick to note that he doesn’t believe the blame lies with frontline healthcare workers.

“I don’t think this has anything to do with – and I’m just saying an opinion here – anything to do with the nurses on duty or the people on duty.

“I think it’s a management issue. I think there is no coordination of activities and I’m trying to bring that home here. If we don’t get better management outcomes in our hospitals, we won’t get better healthcare.”

change of ministers

Higgs praised Shephard’s work during the pandemic and for her role in drafting a new health plan for the province.

However, Fitch will take a “fresh look” at how the department measures performance and where the shortcomings in healthcare lie.

Dorothy Shephard has been promoted from Health Secretary to Social Development Secretary while Bruce Fitch has been promoted from Social Development to the Health Secretary role. (CBC)

“In Bruce’s case, sometimes a change is better than a break,” Higgs said.

“Bruce is a seasoned person in government… he’ll be working with people everywhere, just like Dorothy was, but he’s bringing a new look at, OK, how do we measure performance? How do we deliver results? Where have we not delivered and failed to meet the commitments we made, and what were the root causes?”

Dismissal of bodies of the health authorities

Replacing the boards of the two health boards, Higgs said his government has appointed trustees Suzanne Johnston and Gerald Richard for Horizon and Vitalité, respectively.

“We are fortunate to have two outstanding and experienced retired individuals to guide us through these challenging times.

The boards of health networks are made up of members elected by the public and appointed by the government.

Higgs said the two boards had been revoked to make faster changes to the two health boards.

We are taking a crisis management approach here to be able to make decisions, enable direct consultations with appropriate people and move on.

“So we’re resolving this situation of a bureaucratic standoff… and it’s not meant to be permanent, but it’s meant to get results. And now I need to see results, and I want to remove the barriers and roadblocks for us healthcare professionals to achieve them.”

Higgs said he has no timetable for when he expects results from the two trustees and is vague as to what their goals are.

“There will be some goals that we will set there that we want to achieve first. So I can’t set a timeline for this, but I want to be clear about what the results need to be.”

“Big step backwards,” says the supplanted Horizon chair

Higgs’ announcement drew strong criticism from Jeff McAloon, Horizon’s chief executive officer until Friday.

“I am disappointed and disheartened by Premier Higgs’ unilateral decision to appoint Dr. Remove John Dornan as CEO of Horizon Health Network,” McAloon said in an emailed statement.

“I believe in Dr. Dornan’s experience and ability to bring about real and positive change in the province’s healthcare system.”

During the press conference, Higgs dodged a question about what Dornan hadn’t done in his role as CEO.

“I think what I’m demonstrating here is the need to have an uplift in terms of frontline workers in the case of Margaret Melanson and her role in clinical services and you know how we can direct that in the hospitals.” , he said.

“I think every hospital has to have a clinical services manager who’s really the gatekeeper to who’s coming in? who goes out What time is it? How fast can we do it? And we have to get on the ground with it.

dr John Dornan has been fired as CEO of Horizon Health Network after being formally appointed to the position just four months ago. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

McAloon characterized Higgs’ move as a centralization of health care control.

“For me and the partially elected local board that I chair, today’s announcement is a huge step backwards,” he said.

“It represents a loss of ownership and community engagement and clinical leadership.

“Centralizing control in the prime minister’s office is not the answer. Politics brought us here and is not the solution.”

McAloon said he had not heard from Higgs and only found out about his decision just before the press conference began.

“I join all New Brunswickers in their feelings of shock and wish nothing more than to see our system stabilized.”

Johanne Lise Landry, spokeswoman for the Vitalité Health Network, said in an email that the health network had not received any correspondence regarding the dismissal of its board.

There have also been reactions from the medical community itself.

“The dismissal of Dr. John Dornan would have to pass as one of the most ill-advised, mindless, and ill-considered decisions I’ve ever heard,” tweeted cardiologist Dr. Robert Teskey.

reaction of the opposition

Interim Liberal leader Roger Melanson wondered why it was taking so long for Higgs to do something about health care problems.

He said the prime minister has been in office four years and he needs to explain to New Brunswickers what his new plan is and why he thinks it will work.

However, Melanson is concerned that recruiting new doctors won’t be high on the province’s agenda.

“We need health workers to be able to provide these services and they didn’t even mention that in this press conference today,” Melanson said.

Green Party health critic Megan Mitton said successive Liberal and PC strip governments have contributed to the state of the province’s health system.

She is concerned about the abandonment of partially elected health officials, a move she says runs counter to democracy.

“We shouldn’t see more centralization of our healthcare system,” Mitton said. “We should go the other way and have more decision-making, power and resources at the local level.”

Melanson said he would like to see the Legislature called back to deal with the issue, something Mitton said she would support.

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