Horizon Health Network is rolling out organizational changes to improve patient care by focusing on the needs of patients and their families.

John McGarry, the president and chief executive officer of the province's largest health authority, announced the change in approach at Horizon's October board meeting in Fredericton on Thursday.

"Horizon and its predecessor organization have long claimed that they followed the patient and family centred care philosophy in delivering our mission," states McGarry in Horizon's community report for October. "However, in my first few months in understanding what is important to the Board, and through my meetings with staff and other stakeholders, I have come to the certain conclusion that we have a significant distance to go to truly make that claim."

Penny Ericson

Penny Ericson is pleased with changes in the approach to patient care she has seen so far by Horizon Health Network. (CBC)

"I have learned that other organizations are doing much better in legitimizing the role of the patient and family in planning and delivering the care and services they receive," said McGarry. "It is our intention to make a more formal and comprehensive effort to welcome patients and families into our world."

One change announced is the executive director of the Saint John Regional Hospital will take on the added responsibility of being in charge of patient-centred care for the Horizon network.

Changes are also happening on the front lines of health care. For instance, nurse managers now spend more time on the floor with patients.

That's in response to a common complaint heard by McGarry. "There wasn't enough supervision on the unit on the in-patient side, such that nurse managers were familiar with all the patients that were in place in the unit."

The new approach is partly in response to concerns raised in a 27-page personal report by a former nurse and nursing professor. Penny Ericson documented her observations as she spent time with her husband in the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton in the months before he died.

Ericson detailed a long list of problems with staffing, cleanliness, patient care, and employee professionalism. McGarry said addressing issues like a lack of empathy among nurses can be a difficult fix.

"Dealing with 12,000 people and making sure they all have a very positive attitude and making sure they don't bring their personal problems to the workplace, that's a big issue," said McGarry.

A zero-tolerance policy is in place to deal with disrespect by employees, who are instructed to focus on the individual's needs and preferences.

Changes to be implemented include enhancements to staff identification cards, restricting employees from using personal cell phones while on duty, and improving communication between shifts.

Ericson is pleased with the progress so far.

"I think my biggest issue was that ‚Ķcommunication improve within the hospital, so that patients and family know what's happening," said Ericson.

"I've said what I wanted to say and I know they're working on this, and I know they know I will keep watching and keep listening and keep observing."