Vickie Kaminski: Eastern Health is 'better than we were'

Vickie Kaminski will close the door to her office at Eastern Health for the final time on Friday, to take over the helm of Alberta Health Services on June 2.
CBC's Debbie Cooper talks to Eastern Health's Vickie Kaminski as she leaves for Alberta 6:05

Friday is Vickie Kaminski's last day as president and CEO at Eastern Health.

Kaminski announced on March 14 that she will assume a position as president and CEO of Alberta Health Services in June. 

When she took the reins of the province's largest health authority five years ago, the organization was still reeling from the hormone receptor testing scandal.

About 400 breast cancer patients in Newfoundland and Labrador were mistakenly denied potentially life-saving therapy due to laboratory errors that were made between 1997 and 2005.

I've got to say it's the way the staff has behaved. I think that they've been through a lot, and [they] could have just sunk to not caring, but they've stepped up and have adopted an attitude of patient safety and quality, and putting the patient first.- Vickie Kaminski, outgoing president and CEO of Eastern Health

Her mission: to restore public confidence.

Kaminski, in an exit interview with the CBC's Debbie Cooper, said she hopes that happened. 

"I hope that it's an increased confidence on the part of the public in Eastern Health. I think that's to just be a more open organization. I know we've got a ways to go and we're not as open as people would always like us to be — but we're better than we were," she said.  

Kaminski said when she began her tenure with Eastern Health, she didn't know what she was going to find.

"I found a wonderful set of people. 13,000 employees working hard, doing a good job most of the time — and a very battered and bruised community and staff. Everybody was reeling from what had happened with ER/PR  but nobody wanted to give up."

Making progress 

Kaminski said certain areas of Eastern Health are very different now than they were in 2009 — in particular in the authority's laboratories. She feels the organization is making good progress.

"I don't think we can ever rest on our laurels and say that it's all behind us, and we're totally on the right track now," Kaminski said. "I think that we have a number of places where we've worked really hard. The lab is definitely a different place. They are very much looking at quality and patient safety, and continuous improvement — and the focal point for them is making sure they're giving the right test results, doing the right test procedures."  

Kaminski said the next CEO faces a big challenge.

"We are very much dependent on hospitals in this province, and how do we use hospitals in this province appropriately? Big ones, small ones, everything in between. So, I think that whole utilization will be something for my successor to be paying attention to as well."

Don Keats will serve in the interim while the search firm Four Corners Group looks for a permanent replacement for Kaminski. 

Embraced Newfoundland and Labrador culture

Kaminski said she and her husband will remember their time in the province "with absolute fondness."

"We have some very, very good friends here. We have had some wonderful experiences — so much so we've decided we're going to retire here. There are so many talented people here you cannot meet a family who doesn't have a singer, or a songwriter, or an artist or an author in their midst. We're actually trying to buy a condo on the [St. John's] waterfront before we leave, so [in three years] I'll be able to look at Eastern Health from the outside," she said.

When asked what her proudest accomplishment was, Kaminski credited the attitude of Eastern Health staff.

"I've got to say it's the way the staff has behaved. I think that they've been through a lot, and [they] could have just sunk to not caring — but they've stepped up and they have adopted an attitude of patient safety and quality and putting the patient first."

As CEO of Alberta Health Services, Kaminski will receive $540,000 in annual salary, and has agreed to a three-year term. She begins the job on June 2.


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