Higgs’s adoption of Nova Scotia’s well being playbook a ‘large gamble’

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

It occurred in New Brunswick this summer season, however a remarkably related collection 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 Middle in Sackville.

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

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

“The Tories mounted a marketing campaign very a lot based mostly 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 group knew methods to make “an instantaneous distinction” within the system, Houston mentioned.

“I believe typically it is simply it’s a must 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 Brief/CBC)

Now Premier Blaine Higgs has adopted an identical 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 Vitalite 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 premiere referred to as the alternative of the 2 well being boards with trustees non permanent, nevertheless it’s not clear what precisely “no matter is important” will appear like.

He needs higher latitude for sufferers to journey to different hospitals if they will get service there sooner 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 below a single board.

Fierlbeck mentioned eliminating well being authority boards permits governments to “management [decisions] extra adequately. … You are successfully signaling an finish to this arm’s-length relationship” with the individuals who run the system daily, 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 scenario 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 evening and divert their staffing assets to supply extra major care throughout the day.

However inside 5 days, the PC minority authorities deserted the plan within the face of protests and a threat of dropping 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 advised a committee of MLAs the premiere 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 prevented closures in favor of extra consultations with native communities on what companies 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 companies have closed sporadically for days or even weeks due to an absence of employees.

“The plan itself is sweet nevertheless it must be carried out,” Higgs mentioned at his July 15 information convention.

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

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

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

In that province, “the scenario 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)

“If 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 course from the best degree, there’s completely no query the place the buck stops. No matter occurs now, the premier himself goes to should 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 premiere, whereas Higgs made his strikes halfway by way of his fourth 12 months in energy.

“If you happen to’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 a whole 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 voters forgets and forgives this specific episode? It is an enormous gamble.”