Systemic change, support needed to restart NB health care system, says medical community

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Sarah Ecker, a registered nurse from Fredericton, listened to Premier Blaine Higgs’ press conference on Friday. She had mixed feelings, but grew more and more disappointed as she went.

Following a death in a New Brunswick emergency room, Higgs announced that he had dissolved the boards of Vitalité Health Network and Horizon Health Network, which the Minister of Health would trade positions with the Minister of Social Development and that the CEO of Horizon Health had been fired.

Ecker was happy to see Dorothy Shephard removed as health minister, but was surprised to learn that Dr. John Dornan, CEO of Horizon, had been fired.

Dorothy Shephard, the former minister of health for New Brunswick, was removed from her post and is now minister of social development. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Higgs skirted any form of accountability, Ecker said. She said there is a staffing crisis in New Brunswick and that the problem of staffing shortages will not be solved by a management reshuffle.

“[Higgs] mentioned that people are having their vital signs done in the ER while they wait, yes that’s a great intervention that should be done, but if you have four nurses working in the ER and people are coming in with a big emergency , like, something has to give,” she said.

“There are not many people. You can’t do much. »

She said adding new policies and procedures would only add more stress to the front line.

Nurses’ voices are not being heard, Ecker said. She hopes frontline staff will have the opportunity to share their views and that the government will recognize the need for more staff.

“I really think they need to work on morale,” Ecker said. “It’s like one of those cyclical problems where you need more staff to boost morale, but you need better morale to encourage more staff.”

COVID-19 reveals flaws in the system

Higgs said at the press conference he was “appalled” by the death in an emergency room waiting room. Ecker said this was not a new issue and there was some responsibility attached because this situation made headlines.

Ecker said the healthcare system was on “thin ice.”

“COVID just shone a flashlight on an issue that was in the dark and it’s only bringing all these cracks to light now,” she said. “Maybe it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Ecker said Horizon staff received a notice earlier in the week asking staff to wear masks in public and lead by example. She thinks Dornan saw that having a healthy workforce would have an immediate impact for the good of the healthcare system.

Dissolving boards

Ecker called the dissolution of the health boards a “one-sided power grab.”

She said she thought any voice representing a larger group of people was gone.

Norma McGraw, a former Vitalité Health Network board member, said she wasn’t too surprised by the decision.

Norma McGraw, a former Vitalité Health Network board member, said she wasn’t too surprised by the decision to drop the advice. (Radio Canada)

“We expected something [would] arrive and Higgs [would] eventually act on those pressures on him to improve the health care system,” she said.

She said she had not heard of the decision to disband the councils until the announcement had already been made.

Johanne Lise Landry, spokesperson for Vitalité Health Network, confirmed in an email Friday that the health network has not received any correspondence concerning the dismissal of its board of directors.

McGraw said she would like to know what the council has done that falls short of the premier’s standard.

She said that Vitalité should have autonomy from its health network. She said that removing the board of directors and replacing it with a single appointed director would diminish the influence of the community on Vitalité Health Network.

But she said she hopes the appointed administrator will be able to make changes.

“Everyone wants the system to improve and if that’s what it takes to get the result, well, I wish Mr. Higgs the best,” McGraw said.

And after?

Paula Doucet, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, said she was called to a brief meeting at 2:15 p.m. Friday when she learned of the announcement.

She was surprised that the advice from health authorities was going to be put on hold and was disappointed by Dornan’s withdrawal.

Dr. John Dornan, former president and CEO of Horizon Health Network, has been fired. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

“I felt he really understood the frontline issues and the issues that nurses were raising,” she said.

But she said systemic changes need to happen so frontline staff can feel supported.

“We were in short supply before the pandemic, and then, you know, two and a half years, almost three years into this pandemic, the staff, the retired nurses, the health care providers, you know, all of our paramedics, they are exhausted.”

She said the decisions announced Friday are a start. But she plans to contact new health minister Bruce Fitch, the prime minister and others to find out where to go next.

Paula Doucet, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, said systemic changes are needed so frontline staff can feel heard and supported. (Ed Hunter)

The New Brunswick Medical Society released a statement yesterday supporting the change in government leadership. According to the statement, the company looks forward to meeting with the Minister of Health to discuss how the government will address the priorities set out in the provincial health plan.

The statement also thanks Dornan for his service as CEO of Horizon, saying “he has done an admirable job guiding Horizon through incredibly difficult circumstances.”

Ecker said he felt like Higgs wasn’t looking for the root cause.

“This is not going to be solved by just mixing the cards. We really need deliberate, intentional and meaningful change, not just more bureaucracy,” she said.

“I say [Higgs] talked a lot about breaking down barriers and bureaucracy yesterday. But I feel like the Emperor just got a new pair of clothes.”

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