Flemming wants care back in health care

Responding to a former nursing professor's account of her husband's final seven months in hospital, Ted Flemming says the system has focused more on curing disease than caring for people.

Health minister reacts to account of poor sanitation, unprofessional behaviour in hospital

Health Minister Ted Flemming sees a need to put the care of patients back in health care in New Brunswick.

Flemming was responding to a former nursing professor's account of her husband's final seven months in hospital.

Penny Ericson's 27-page document, titled Carl Ericson's Last Class, detailed her observations in the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton, pointing out poor sanitation and a lack of professionalism by staff as key issues of concern.

Responding to the report on CBC's Information Morning on Monday, Flemming said over the years, health care has perhaps focused more on curing disease than caring for patients.

Horizon Health Network CEO John McGarry says staff "missed the boat" in caring for Carl Ericson. (CBC)

"We've spent a lot of money on PET scans and CT scans and linear accelerators, but I think we have to realize that the bedpan may well be as important as the CT scan for a patient, laying there in bed," said Flemming.

In her report, Ericson said she was shocked by the lack of proper cleaning in the hospital’s hallways, washrooms and cafeterias.

It is her contention that hospitals have been forced to save money because of tighter budgets being imposed by the provincial government, and subsequently the governing health authorities.

But Ericson believes quality of care has been compromised through saving money in the wrong places.

Flemming says as the health minister, he's ultimately responsible for patient care in the province's hospitals and for addressing problems like those outlined in Ericson's report. But throwing money at the situation is not the answer, Flemming said.

"If there's a pile of dirty linen on the floor and someone is being paid a salary to deal with the dirty linen, that's a management issue, not a money issue," said Flemming. "We're paying somebody to do that and it's not being done."

The CEO of Horizon Health Network, the health authority that operates the Fredericton hospital, said he was concerned and upset by the issues raised by Ericson.

John McGarry admits management and staff "missed the boat" in caring for Carl Ericson.

McGarry says too much attention is often paid to "the big picture" at the expense of patient concerns, and that will have to change.

"I've been talking to our senior managers and saying to them that, 'You need to get out there and up on the floors seeing the patients,''' said McGarry. "I call it `20 touches a month.'

"We need to be seeing 20 patients a month, each member of senior management, so that we sort of get a sense of what's going on in the institution," he said.

McGarry plans to meet with health care officials and Ericson to ensure the problems encountered during the treatment of her husband are solved.