New Brunswick

Language, rural hospitals on radar of new Horizon Health CEO

The Horizon Health Network’s incoming president and CEO, Karen McGrath, is gearing up for conversations with patients in places like Charlotte County, many of whom have deep concerns about their local hospitals.

Karen McGrath is replacing former Horizon Health CEO John McGarry, who announced his retirement in April

The services offered at rural hospitals, as well as maintaining equitable services in both official languages, are top priorities for incoming Horizon Health Network CEO Karen McGrath. (CBC)

The Horizon Health Network's incoming president and CEO, Karen McGrath, is gearing up for conversations with patients in places like Charlotte County, where concerns about changes to local hospitals run deep.

"You need to know what you can rely on in your own community," said McGrath. "[New Brunswick] has been successful in consolidating things like cancer care and cardiac care, but people want to know what their hospital is going to be able to provide."​

​McGrath, who is from Newfoundland and Labrador, has more than 35 years of experience in healthcare, a master's in business administration, a bachelor's in social work, and a diploma in health services management from the Canadian Hospital Association, according to the Government of New Brunswick. 

She'll take over for outgoing Horizon Health Network president and CEO John McGarry in January. McGarry announced his retirement in April.

Talks in the works

Without yet having visited the small hospitals, McGrath said, it's impossible for her to say yet whether their services need to change.
New Horizon Health Network CEO will take over for current CEO John McGarry, who is retiring, in January 2017. (CBC)

This fall, a group called the Concerned Citizens of Charlotte County publicly called for hospital operations to be turned over to a local board due to what they see as increasingly unsatisfactory levels of service.

McGrath says Horizon Health will examine all of these issues.

"The first step is talking about what are the services they need in their community," McGrath said. "I look forward to visiting all the hospitals and asking whether some services could be consolidated."

Issues far from unique

The next president and CEO of Horizon Health Network talks about her upcoming job
McGrath says while she's new to New Brunswick, she's no stranger to some of the issues this province faces in offering bilingual services.

She negotiated language issues between healthcare authorities in the predominantly French community of Penetanguishene, Ontario and the neighboring English-speaking community of Midland in her previous role at Georgian Bay General Hospital, 90 minutes north of Toronto.

She also formerly served as the CEO for Central Health in Newfoundland.

Horizon Health Network president John McGarry announced his retirement April 21. (CBC)

"Across the country, we are grappling with the sustainability of providing health services in rural areas, and dealing with the escalation of costs while our dollars are finite," she said.

In addition, people get "very attached to their hospitals," she said, "and to the services that their hospitals deliver. It's important to engage them in the process of determining what the hospital is going to look like."

McGrath cited offering equitable care in both English and French, and balancing the declining population in rural areas with the desire to maintain services at local hospitals, as some of the priorities Horizon hopes to address via public consultations.

Making sensible changes, she says, is a collaborative process.

"The biggest things that I've learned over my careers like that it's no one person that's going to effect change," said McGrath.

"You have to work in collaboration with staff, families, physicians, patients, and communities. It's a combined effort to make the system sustainable in the long term."

With files from Information Morning Saint John