Government & Policy
NB premier fires health network CEO, dismisses boards
July 20, 2022
FREDERICTON – Premier Blaine Higgs (pictured) dropped his health minister and fired the CEO of one of two New Brunswick health networks after worsening news on the healthcare front that included a “traumatizing” death in an emergency department’s waiting room. Bruce Fitch is now health minister, switching places with Dorothy Shephard, who moves from Health to Social Development, Higgs announced.
Higgs also announced Horizon Health Network CEO John Dornan was fired from his role, and replaced on an interim basis by Margaret Melanson, the network’s vice-president clinical services. In addition, Higgs said he revoked the boards of both Horizon and Vitalité health networks and installed in their place a trustee for each.
“We have a plan,” CBC News reported Higgs as saying. “It needs to be implemented. The situation we’re in today is the result of many, many years of successive governments refusing to deal with urgent situations.”
The shakeup of New Brunswick’s healthcare leadership comes after a patient died in the waiting room of the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital’s emergency department earlier this month morning while waiting for care.
Witness John Staples said the man, a senior, had been waiting alone in a wheelchair, in visible discomfort for hours when he appeared to fall asleep. It was only during a routine check of people in the waiting room that a hospital employee realized the man had stopped breathing, he said.
Higgs said he was “appalled” when he heard a patient died while waiting to be seen in an emergency department. He said he’s asked Horizon Health Network to undertake an investigation into what happened, and that if he’s not satisfied with the results, will ask for an external review.
“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 receive the help we need.”
Answering questions from reporters, Higgs said his hope is the investigation uncovers whether any standards for care at the hospital were not being met when the patient died in the waiting room. However, he was quick to note he doesn’t believe fault lies with frontline healthcare workers.
“I don’t believe this has anything to do with – and I’m just stating an opinion here – anything to do with the nurses on shift or the people on shift. “I believe it’s a management issue. I believe there’s no co-ordination of activity and that’s what I’m trying to drive home here. If we don’t get better management results in our hospitals, we won’t get better healthcare.”
Higgs praised Shephard’s work during the pandemic, and for her role in putting forward a new healthcare plan for the province. However, he said, Fitch would take a “fresh look” at how the department measures performance and where the shortcomings lie in healthcare.
“In the case of Bruce joining, sometimes a change is, some may say, better than a rest,” Higgs said.
“Bruce is a seasoned individual within the government … he’ll work with people anywhere, as Dorothy was, but bringing in a fresh look at, OK, how do we measure performance? How do we deliver on results? Where have we not provided and followed through on commitments made and what were the root causes of that?”
In place of the boards of directors for the two health authorities, 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 individuals to come out of retirement to help guide us through these challenging times.”
The boards of the health networks include members elected by the public and members appointed by government. Higgs said the two boards were revoked to make quicker changes at the two health authorities. “We’re taking a crisis management approach here to allow decisions to be made, to allow direct consultation with appropriate people and get on with it. So we’re removing this situation of a bureaucratic stalemate … and this isn’t intended to be permanent but this is intended to get results. And right now, I need to see results, and I want to remove the barriers and roadblocks for our health professionals to achieve them.”
Higgs said he didn’t have a timeline for when he expects results from the two trustees and was vague on what their targets were. “There’s going to be some targets we’ll be setting out there that we want to achieve first. So, I can’t put a timeline on it but I do want to be clear on what the outcomes need to be.”
Higgs’s announcement was met with swift criticism from Jeff McAloon, the Horizon board chair until Friday. “I am disappointed and disheartened by Premier Higgs’s unilateral decision to remove Dr. John Dornan as CEO of Horizon Health Network,” McAloon told CBC News in an email statement. “I believe in Dr. Dornan’s experience and ability to affect real and positive change in the provincial health system.”
During the news conference, Higgs sidestepped a question about what it was Dornan failed to do in his role as CEO.
“I think what I’m demonstrating here is a need to get a groundswell in relation to 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 in every hospital there needs to be a manager of clinical services that is really that gatekeeper of who is coming in? Who is going out? What’s the time in? How quickly are we managing that? And we need to get on the ground with that.”
There was also reaction from the medical community itself. “Firing Dr. John Dornan would have to rank as one of the ill-advised, mindless and ill-considered decisions I have ever heard,” tweeted cardiologist Dr. Robert Teskey.
Interim Liberal Leader Roger Melanson wondered why it’s taking so long for Higgs to do something about problems in the healthcare system. He said the premier has been in office for four years, and he needs to explain to New Brunswickers what his new plan is and why he thinks it will work.