Premier Blaine Higgs champions sweeping changes in health care leadership

Last Friday, Premier Blaine Higgs defended what he called his « shocking and impressive » changes to the leadership of New Brunswick’s health care system.

He replaced the Minister of Health, fired the head of Horizon Health Network, and replaced the boards of Horizon and Vitalité with a single director each.

Higgs says his actions demonstrate an appropriate sense of urgency for a system in « crisis, » which he says did not come from those running the system.

« We’re always going to find people who resist change. But now is the time to change our system and put it on the path to improvement, » he said Monday.

« And sometimes I know shock and awe are hard, but I think everyone realized something had to be different. »

The upheaval comes after a patient died in the emergency department waiting room at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton early Tuesday morning while awaiting treatment.

Witness John Staples said the elderly man 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 worker realized the man had stopped breathing, he said.

According to Higgs, 17 ER patients were waiting to be admitted that day and the hospital was full.

Higgs said he felt it was necessary to release the results of Horizon’s review of a patient’s death in the emergency department waiting room at Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital last Tuesday morning. while waiting for treatment. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

« We know hospital occupancy has always been a problem. We had this before COVID. But are people being released [in] an appropriate [amount of] time? Do we have a flow in the system as needed, so we keep people moving because new people are coming? All of these things are a process improvement, a flow, a management problem, and that’s why I focus so much on it. »

Higgs confirmed that the results of Horizon’s ongoing review of the patient’s death will be made public. If he is unhappy with the results, he will seek an external review, he said.

At Friday’s press conference, Higgs announced that Bruce Fitch is replacing Dorothy Shephard as health minister, as she takes charge of Social Development; Margaret Melanson Replaces Dr. John Dornan as Horizon’s Interim President and CEO; and the government appointed Suzanne Johnston and Gerald Richard as directors of Horizon and Vitalité, respectively, replacing the boards, which included members elected by the public and appointed by the government.

It was removing a “bureaucratic deadlock,” he said.

I guess I’m not the first to see it deteriorate, but I might be the first to do so in a sense of urgency to make something change.– Blaine Higgs, Premier

Asked Monday about his own role and his office’s role in the deterioration of the health care system, Higgs replied: « Well, I guess I’m not the first to see it deteriorate, but I could be the first. to act like that in the sense of urgency to change something. »

Higgs has served for four years. He was re-elected with a majority government in September 2020 after calling a snap election after two years leading the province’s first minority government since 1920.

His government invested more money in the health system, « but it wasn’t working, » he said between frequent sips of water, apologizing for having what he described as » a problem with [a] cold in [his] throat. »

« I think I demonstrated the responsibility to act and make something happen in a timely manner and I took that responsibility. »

‘Not afraid to try’ new way

What if radical leadership changes don’t work?

« Well, there are a lot of scenarios in the world, and I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Right now, I’m not afraid to take action and keep taking action because our people deserve better. Our people deserve better. And we all need to make sure it’s better, » Higgs said.

« And I’m not afraid of being measured along the way to see that the best is indeed happening. So I guess, you know, you can make that judgment in a few years and decide whether we’ve been successful or no. But right now I’m not afraid to try and try in a new and different way. »

Call for more resources

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in New Brunswick agrees that changes are needed, but argues that more workers and better funding are needed.

« We can change whoever we want in charge. If they don’t have the resources to do their job and are told all the time ‘do more with less’, our members will continue to be frustrated with their managers. and managers will be frustrated by the government for not giving them the tools to do their job,” spokesperson Simon Ouellette said.

New Brunswick should do everything possible to recruit health care workers, according to CUPE, in particular by offering free training in the field.

simon ouellette cupe
CUPE spokesperson Simon Ouellette said financial and human resources are needed on the ground to help New Brunswick’s health care system. (Radio-Canada)

« Instead of doing that, we are coming to do an administrative reshuffle and we have just removed a layer of transparency that we had with our health authorities who are now under supervision, » said Ouellette.

Higgs said « money won’t fix all of this ».

The health plan will always implement this mandate

Leadership changes will allow faster changes to a strained system. Having a small targeted group mimics what the government did at the start of the pandemic, he said. « We had a small group that made decisions … based on facts and then transferred them throughout the system. »

He still wants his government’s health reform plan, announced last November, to be implemented during the current term, he said.

“We have fallen behind schedule, but we will catch up because our health plan that we have proposed is solid. There will always be adjustments and improvements as we move forward in any improved process, but we are committed to doing during this term. »

The need for targets and speed of implementation were part of the health plan, which promised that by the second quarter of 2022-23, the list of New Brunswickers waiting for a doctor would be eliminated and replaced by New Brunswick Primary Care Network.

An update provided last month showed about 63,000 people are now on the Patient Connect New Brunswick list – 23,000 more than when the plan was announced.

Higgs wants to see more sharing of best practices between the two health networks. He notes that Vitalité, for example, has just hired about 275 students to allow nurses to take vacations this summer.

He also wants to see better communication and collaboration between individual hospitals. One area he highlights is the daily sharing of ER capacity information so people can go to another hospital where waits may be shorter.

In addition, nurses should be able to trade shifts with each other, family physicians should work more as a team, and surgeries and emergency care should be offered where wait times are shorter. , did he declare.


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