Fired Horizon CEO's grievance decision offers behind-the-scenes glimpse of health changes
A labour adjudicator's decision in the grievance of the former CEO of Horizon Health Network over his public firing by the premier offers a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes when health-care changes are made in New Brunswick.
Dr. John Dornan won his unjust dismissal case against the province earlier this week.
Adjudicator George Filliter accepted Dornan was fired four months into his five-year contract in a "public, disingenuous and callous manner" and awarded him about $2 million.
Premier Blaine Higgs announced Dornan's firing during a news conference July 15, following the death of a Fredericton patient in the waiting room of the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital's emergency department.
'Potentially precarious nature of job'
According to the decision, Dornan "became very much aware of the potentially precarious nature of [his] job" while he was still working as the interim CEO.
He testified at the adjudication hearing that at one point during those seven months, he was "encouraged to consider" ending the obstetric and gynecological services at the Upper River Valley Hospital in Waterville.
The decision does not indicate who encouraged him. Dornan declined Friday to provide any additional information.
But according to his undisputed testimony, he "considered this option and because it was in line with previous plans, he made the decision to cancel these services and made an announcement accordingly," the decision says.
Higgs told him he had been 'thrown under the bus'
The next day, he was told by the Horizon board to reverse his announcement, and "later he received a call from the Premier in which the grievor was told during this conversation that he had been 'thrown under the bus,'" it says.
The province did not cross-examine Dornan during the adjudication hearing, leaving his testimony unchallenged.
Heidi Liston, the deputy health minister at the time, testified at the hearing. Former health minister Dorothy Shephard also testified briefly, but the parties agreed she "was not able to offer relevant evidence" about Dornan's case.
There is no other information about the Upper River Valley obstetrics in the 34-page decision.
Shortage of nurses, doctors cited
On Nov. 5, 2021, Horizon warned expectant mothers in the Waterville area to plan on delivering their babies at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton, which is about 100 kilometres away.
The Upper River Valley Hospital was facing a shortage of nurses and doctors amid a pressing need to care for COVID-19 patients, it said in the Friday evening news release.
"Persistent, temporary closures of the Labour and Birth service at Horizon's URVH due to nursing and physician shortages and to care for COVID-19 patients have created uncertainties for obstetrics patients and their care teams," the news release said.
Horizon was "implementing a long-term solution to ensure expectant mothers from the Upper River Valley area [had] access to reliable, safe and quality care during labour and birth."
That solution, it said, was to transition labour and birth services from Waterville to Fredericton.
"This is the safest alternative for their care and that of their baby and will provide stability and certainty around where they will be delivering."
Horizon did not say how long the diversion would last, but Woodstock Mayor Arthur Slipp said area residents were "very, very concerned" it might close permanently.
The next day, Horizon issued another news release.
"Further to yesterday's statement, Horizon Health Network will continue to provide labour and birth services at Horizon's Upper River Valley Hospital (URVH) in Waterville."
No one from Horizon was available at the time to explain the flip-flop.