Manitoba

New WRHA president acknowledges challenges in 'dynamic time' for Winnipeg health care

Vickie Kamiski was announced as the new president and CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority on Friday.

Health authority names Vickie Kaminski new CEO; has worked in health care in Ontario, Alberta, Newfoundland

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority announced on Friday that it had hired Vickie Kaminski as its new president and CEO. (Submitted by WRHA)

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has announced its new president and CEO — a woman who comes into the role with decades of health-care experience, as well as controversy surrounding her resignation from a similar role in Alberta.

The health authority said Friday that Vickie Kaminski will replace outgoing president and CEO Réal Cloutier, who announced he'd be stepping down last month.

Kaminski holds a degree in nursing and has worked in health care for over 40 years. She has served in executive management roles with public health-care systems in Australia, Ontario, Alberta, and Newfoundland Labrador. 

She was president and CEO of Alberta Health Services from 2014 to 2016, and has been a consultant for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority since July 2019.

"I'm very excited to be joining WRHA," Kaminski told reporters on conference call Friday. "It's a very dynamic time for them. They've gone through a lot of change, and there's change on the horizon as well with the transformation agenda."

She said she was impressed by the organization's leadership, whom she met while working as a consultant. That made it easy for her to put her name forward for the president and CEO position, she said.

Kaminski comes into the role following two years of major overhaul in Winnipeg's health-care system, which included going from six emergency rooms in the city to three in two phases of conversions.

"We are thrilled to have Vickie joining us to lead the WRHA through this critical period of stabilization, now that Phase 2 of the clinical changes is substantially complete," WRHA board chair Karen Dunlop said in a media release.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said in a release that Kaminski is a "capable leader" whose experience will help a lot moving forward. He also thanked Cloutier for his service.

Kaminski said her first priority will be to get to know the people she'll be working with.

"It takes a bit of time to come in and really get settled and learn who you're working with, so I look forward very much to that," she said.

Her experience working in health systems in other jurisdictions will help as the WRHA adjusts to changes in the province's health-care system.

"I have worked in a number of systems that have been undergoing transition," Kaminski said.

"Being able to learn from that and bringing that experience that I've had to WRHA, I hope, will serve them well. I'm certain that we'll be able to get through this together."

Alleged political interference in Alberta

Kaminski has dealt with her share of controversy while in leadership roles in public health care.

She resigned as CEO of Alberta Health Services in late 2015, alleging political interference by the province's NDP government meant she could no longer do her job independently.

She claimed the province meddled in union contract negotiations and an ambulance dispatch plan, and got in the way of good management.

And in 2007, when Kaminski was CEO of the Sudbury Regional Hospital, George Smitherman — then Ontario's health minister — criticized the operations of the hospital, according to local media reports.

Smitherman expressed particular disappointment that Kaminski was getting pay increases, while the hospital's performance was declining.

"Health care is not without its challenges," Kaminski said Friday. "Everybody is very interested in what's happening in health, and is very emotive about it."

Kaminski served as CEO of Alberta Health Services from 2014 to 2016, and said she resigned because there was too much political interference. (CBC)

She wouldn't rule out controversy as she leads the WRHA, but said she's confident everyone in the system will be able to work together to overcome it.

"Certainly the challenges are there. There are people in the system in WRHA who work very hard every day to meet those challenges, and I'm very happy to be part of that team," Kaminski said.

After leaving her role in Sudbury, Kaminski was hired to head up Eastern Health — Newfoundland and Labrador's largest health authority.

In 2012, a Liberal member of Newfoundland and Labrador's legislature called for her resignation, or suggested the board fire her, after revelations that a nurse had been fired for privacy breaches — which included looking at medical records of the nurse's ex-husband and other people she knew — and that four others had been fired for similar reasons over the last 15 months.

Kaminski left her job with Eastern Helath in 2014 to work with Alberta Health Services.

Her first day as president and CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority will be Jan. 6, 2020. Cloutier will remain in the position until mid-January to help with her transition into the role.

Her contract is for 18 months, with the option for a six-month extension at the end of that term.

About the Author

Nicholas Frew is an online reporter based in Winnipeg. Hailing from Newfoundland, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school before moving to Winnipeg. Prior to joining CBC Manitoba, Frew interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. Story idea? Email at nick.frew@cbc.ca

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