Higgs’s adoption of Nova Scotia’s health playbook a ‘huge gamble’ | CBC News


A tragic emergency-room loss of life, a well being care disaster — and a premier firing prime well being officers whereas promising to repair the system briefly order.

It occurred in New Brunswick this summer season, however a remarkably comparable sequence of occasions unfolded this time final 12 months in Nova Scotia.

On July 22, 2021, a Bedford man, Keith Harker, died whereas ready for care within the emergency division on the Cobequid Group Well being Centre in Sackville.

The province was within the first week of an election marketing campaign by which well being care was already the driving challenge. 

“There was a way that issues weren’t going properly, that there have been a number of system failures and that one thing needed to be carried out,” says Katherine Fierlbeck, a Dalhousie College political scientist specializing in well being coverage and politics.

“The Tories mounted a marketing campaign very a lot primarily based on ‘fixing’ well being care, and I believe that’s what individuals responded to.” 

The day after he was sworn in, new Progressive Conservative Premier Tim Houston changed the CEO of the province’s well being authority, named a brand new deputy minister of well being and changed the provincial well being authority’s board with a trustee.

The brand new staff knew find out how to make “an instantaneous distinction” within the system, Houston mentioned. 

“I believe generally it is simply you need to hit reset. It is time to hit reset on the Nova Scotia Well being Authority.”

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston changed the provincial well being authority’s board with a trustee the day after he was sworn in, a transfer Premier Blaine Higgs has additionally used. (Robert Quick/CBC)

Now Premier Blaine Higgs has adopted the same playbook in New Brunswick, naming a brand new minister and a brand new Horizon Well being CEO this month and appointing trustees to exchange the Horizon and Vitalité boards. Earlier this summer season, he changed the deputy minister of well being. 

“We settle for it is a disaster and I am not kicking it down the street,” Higgs mentioned, days after the loss of life of a person ready for emergency care on the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton. 

“I am ready to do no matter is important to guard and enhance the well being care system in our province.”

The premier referred to as the substitute of the 2 well being boards with trustees short-term, however it’s not clear what precisely “no matter is important” will appear to be.

He needs higher latitude for sufferers to journey to different hospitals if they’ll get service there quicker and has referred to as for extra co-operation between Horizon and Vitalité.

Dr. John Dornan was eliminated as president and CEO of Horizon Well being Community in a shakeup earlier this month. (Horizon Well being Community)

He spoke of “structural change,” and whereas he has dominated out merging the 2 entities, he has not excluded the potential for placing each of them underneath a single board.

Fierlbeck mentioned eliminating well being authority boards permits governments to “management [decisions] extra tightly. … You are successfully signalling an finish to this arm’s-length relationship” with the individuals who run the system everyday, opening the door to political decision-making.

A brand new governance construction would threat controversy at a time when the PC authorities is already struggling in public opinion polls.

However that is the primary time Higgs has had each a majority authorities and a much less acute COVID state of affairs to cope with. With an election nonetheless two years away, he has a window to implement his personal imaginative and prescient of well being governance.

He has already tried different approaches.

In February 2020, his authorities embraced a proposal by Horizon and Vitalité to shut emergency rooms in six small hospitals at night time and divert their staffing assets to supply extra main care through the day.

However inside 5 days, the PC minority authorities deserted the plan within the face of protests and a threat of shedding a confidence vote and being pressured into an election.

Higgs claimed he was caught off guard by an absence of an implementation plan by the well being authorities, although Horizon’s then-CEO Karen McGrath informed a committee of MLAs the premier was well-briefed on what to anticipate.

‘We have fallen behind on the schedule’

The federal government’s second try at a well being plan final November averted closures in favour of extra consultations with native communities on what providers they want.

However the Tories have already missed a few of its targets. The Affected person Join listing of individuals ready to get household docs has swelled from 40,000 to 63,000 names.

For a second summer season in a row, emergency departments and different providers have closed sporadically for days or even weeks due to a lack of employees.

“The plan itself is nice however it must be applied,” Higgs mentioned at his July 15 information convention. 

“It has targets to be applied throughout our mandate. We’re not on that schedule. We have fallen behind on the schedule, however we’ll get caught up.” 

The premier blamed a “bureaucratic stalemate” on the well being authority stage, although ousted Horizon board chair Jeff McAloon mentioned the system was “on an actual vital path of change.”

Higgs hasn’t offered a timeline for hitting what he says shall be clear, measurable targets for bettering the system, although Fierlbeck mentioned expectations for enhancements will now be very excessive — as they’re in Nova Scotia.

In that province, “the state of affairs has gotten a lot worse,” regardless of Houston’s September 2021 housecleaning, she mentioned.

The “interim” CEO appointed final 12 months, and the trustee who changed the well being authority board, stay in place.

However the variety of individuals with out household docs is “climbing fairly excessive,” and the province has seen lengthy ER waits and sporadic closures this summer season, simply as New Brunswick has.

Katherine Fierlbeck, a professor at Dalhousie College, says New Brunswick’s health-care points might hang-out the PCs on the polls in 2024. (Contributed/Dalhousie College)

“Whenever you make extraordinary guarantees, the expectation is that you’ll ship, and if you don’t ship, there shall be a reckoning,” Fierlbeck mentioned.

“With a government-appointed trustee taking path from the very best stage, there’s completely no query the place the buck stops. No matter occurs now, the premier himself goes to must put on it. So the stakes are fairly excessive.” 

She factors out one distinction between the 2 provincial housecleanings: Houston did his on his first full day as premier, whereas Higgs made his strikes halfway by means of his fourth 12 months in energy.

“In case you’ve been in workplace for 3 or 4 years, and you have not even been keeping track of whether or not there’s efficient efficiency measurements, then what precisely have you ever been doing?” she mentioned.

“By firing each the well being boards and the CEOS and the well being minister, you are successfully admitting that your authorities has made an entire mess of issues,” one thing Fierlbeck believes might hang-out the PCs on the polls in 2024.

“Can any authorities actually flip well being care round in two years, in order that the citizens forgets and forgives this explicit episode? It is an enormous gamble.”

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