Higgs replaces N.B. health minister after patient dies waiting in emergency room

·3 min read

FREDERICTON — New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs is replacing his health minister and the CEO of the Horizon Health Network after a patient died this week in an emergency department waiting room in Fredericton.

Higgs told a news conference Friday he was appalled to learn of the death.

"This is simply unacceptable and just the latest example of the crisis we are facing in our health-care system," Higgs said.

The premier called the death a "traumatizing event" and offered his sympathies to the family and to those present in the waiting room when the man died early Tuesday at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital.

A witness this week described seeing a man in pain and discomfort as he waited for hours in a wheelchair to be seen in the emergency department before he appeared to fall asleep and an attendant discovered he had died.

Higgs said he has asked the health authority for an investigation. "If we are not satisfied with the results, we'll be asking for an external review," he said.

"I am prepared to do whatever is necessary to protect and improve the health-care system in our province," he added.

That starts with replacing Dorothy Shephard as health minister. She moves to the social development portfolio, while Bruce Fitch is the new minister of health.

"Also as of today, Dr. John Dornan has been replaced as the CEO of Horizon Health Network," Higgs said, adding that Margaret Melanson, currently the vice-president of clinical services for Horizon, will be interim CEO. He said the boards of the province's two health networks, Horizon and Vitalité, have been revoked and replaced with trustees.

Suzanne Johnston has been appointed trustee of Horizon while Gerard Richard is trustee of Vitalité.

"The situation we are in today is the result of many, many years of successive governments refusing to deal with urgent situations," said the premier, whose Progressive Conservatives have been in power since 2018.

He said a new structure is needed that reacts to situations and listens to nurses and doctors.

"I hear the frustration of our front-line workers. People working 24-hour shifts because there is no one to replace them is just unacceptable. The staff who can't take much-needed vacation or time off. This is unacceptable .... Wait times of up to 12 hours or longer to be seen in an emergency room. It's unacceptable," Higgs said.

The president of the New Brunswick Medical Society issued a statement late Friday to say he supports the changes. "The health system is in crisis, and addressing this crisis will require swift and difficult decisions. We support any such decision that ultimately leads to meaningful change in the quality of care available to New Brunswickers." wrote Dr. Mark MacMillan.

Interim Liberal Leader Roger Melanson said Friday that the Higgs government has not heard the call for better recruitment and retention of health-care workers.

"It's very unfortunate that it took a tragic situation with somebody losing their life for the premier to realize we have a crisis in the health-care system," Melanson said in an interview.

He said that with the changes, the premier is centralizing all of the health-care decision-making in his hands.

"We need to understand what he has in mind moving forward of how health care services will be delivered," Melanson said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2022.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press

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