New Brunswick

Vice-chair of the Vitalité health network's board resigns over health reform plan

The vice-chair of the Vitalité health network’s board has resigned, saying she and other board members weren’t given a say in the adoption of a controversial health plan.

Norma McGraw left position Monday

Norma McGraw has resigned as the vice-chair of the Vitalité health network’s board. (Radio-Canada)

The vice-chair of the Vitalité health network's board has resigned, saying she and other board members weren't given a say in the adoption of a controversial health plan.

Norma McGraw, a former municipal councillor in Tracadie, announced Wednesday that she had quit on Monday to protest how she was kept in the dark.

"No resolution for or against the closure of emergency departments or on changes to the role of these hospitals was presented" at a December board meeting held behind closed doors, she said.

Since the Feb. 11 announcement of the reforms, McGraw said, she had gone through all her materials from four years on the board "and I found no formal resolution" on the emergency department changes or other elements of the plan.

She said she learned of the reforms, including the plan to close six small hospital emergency departments at night, when word leaked out and was reported in the media the weekend before the announcement.

The night of Feb. 10 -- the eve of the announcement in Fredericton -- the board was convened and told of the plan, she added.

When she objected, "I was told that I should defend the interests of the health authority and not the public," she said at a news conference in Caraquet.

Contradictions

Vitalité CEO Gilles Lanteigne told the legislature’s public accounts committee that Vitalité board had adopted a resolution in December to support the cuts. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)
McGraw's comments contradict the testimony of Vitalité board chair Michelyne Paulin and CEO Gilles Lanteigne at the legislature's public accounts committee last week.

Asked if the board was aware of and involved in the discussions of the plan, Paulin told MLAs, "Yes, absolutely. The board of directors was aware -- not only aware, but supportive." 

Lanteigne added that the board had adopted a resolution to that effect in December. He told Liberal MLA Benoit Bourque he couldn't provide it because the decision was made in a closed-door meeting. 

I was told that I should defend the interests of the health authority and not the public.-  Norma McGraw

But McGraw said Wednesday there was no notice that reforms would be on the agenda at the December meeting and therefore no questions were asked and no formal vote took place.

The plan would have seen emergency departments in six small hospitals -- in Sussex, Perth-Andover, Sackville, Ste-Anne-de-Kent, Caraquet and Grand Falls -- close from midnight to 8 a.m. so that resources could be shifted to care for more patients during the day.

The reforms also would have seen all acute-care beds in those hospitals converted to chronic-care beds for patients waiting for spaces in nursing homes and other accommodations.

After several days of controversy and protests, including the resignation of Deputy Premier Robert Gauvin, the Higgs government put the plan on hold pending public consultations this spring. 

Resolution on comments needed

Vitalité board chair Michelyne Paulin said Norma McGraw violated Vitalité’s policy on closed-door meetings by revealing discussions held at the closed-door meeting. (Submitted by City of Dieppe)

Bourque said the contradictions between McGraw's comments and those of Paulin and Lanteigne need to be resolved. "Who's telling the truth?" he said. "I hope that comes to light sooner rather than later."

If it turns out that Paulin and Lanteigne lied to the committee, he added, "there is only one consequence, which would be resignation or them being fired." 

In a written statement after McGraw's news conference, Paulin said that "all board members are aware and always well informed" of initiatives and "had the opportunity to express themselves freely on the subject on several occasions."

Paulin said the board's decision "was made with full knowledge of the facts", but her statement did not repeat the assertion the board held a vote.

Policy violated

Liberal MLA Benoit Bourque said the contradictions between Norma McGraw’s comments and those of Michelyne Paulin and Gilles Lanteigne need to be resolved. (CBC)

She also said McGraw had violated Vitalité's policy on closed-door meetings and said the vice-chair's claim she was told to defend the health authority and not the public was "false and offensive."

Paulin said McGraw chaired the drafting of the health authority's 2020-23 strategic plan. "She is fully aware of the organization's strategic directions, which are contrary to her public statement."

The two health authority boards are made up of appointed and elected members. McGraw was elected to the Vitalité board in 2016 and her mandate was due to end in May when new members will be elected.

The day the reforms were announced, Health Minister Ted Flemming told a news conference that "this plan has been approved by the board of directors of Vitalité [and] the board of directors of Horizon." 

At the Feb. 19 meeting of the public accounts committee, Horizon board chair John McGarry and CEO Karen McGrath said their board had approved the plan in December, though it wasn't unanimous.

Calls for CEO resignation continue

Horizon Health Network CEO Karen McGrath, Health Minister Ted Flemming and Vitalité Health Network CEO Gilles Lanteigne announced cuts to ER operating hours at six hospitals in New Brunswick on Feb. 11. A week later Premier Blaine Higgs put them on hold. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

McGraw said Wednesday she felt "a moral obligation" to resign because it wasn't possible to represent New Brunswickers on the board with a lack of transparency.

Her announcement added more fuel to calls already made by several mayors in the Acadian Peninsula that Lanteigne resign as CEO.

"All Gilles Lanteigne deserves is to be shown the door," Tracadie mayor Denis Losier said Wednesday. His council passed a motion Tuesday night calling for the CEO to resign.

Asked last week about the calls for him to step down, Lanteigne said he welcomed a debate about ideas on health reform but said it shouldn't be made personal.

McGraw said Wednesday that New Brunswickers should lobby for the two health authority CEOs to be chosen by the boards, and not by the provincial government.

 

With files from René Landry and Alix Villeneuve 

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