New Brunswick

Minister's public health moves called a threat to people's health

The restructuring of the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health is a threat to New Brunswickers because public health will be less efficient and less effective, according to the senior editor of the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

Health Minister Victor Boudreau predicts better teamwork, but expert says changes make no sense

Trevor Hancock, senior editor of the Canadian Journal of Public Health and professor at the University of Victoria, says Health Minister Victor Boudreau's decision will hurt public health. (Trevor Hancock)

The restructuring of the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health is a threat to New Brunswickers because public health will be less efficient and less effective, according to the senior editor of the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

Breaking up the cohesiveness of a public health department while expecting it to have the same mandate is "crazy," said "Trevor Hancock, who is also a professor at the School of Public Health and Social Policy at the University of Victoria.

It makes about as much sense as sending doctors to one ministry, nurses to another and dieticians to a third to improve the performance of a hospital.- Trevor Hancock, Canadian Journal of Public Health

"You don't improve performance by breaking it up and sending it to different parts of the government," he said.

The New Brunswick government announced this week that it is moving health inspectors and professionals into other departments, including Public Safety and Environment, to be more "efficient."

According to Hancock, senior public health colleagues across the country have reacted with a feeling of outrage to Health Minister Victor Boudreau's decision to restructure the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health.

"It makes about as much sense as sending doctors to one ministry, nurses to another and dieticians to a third to improve the performance of a hospital. It makes no sense," he said.

But Boudreau disagreed and suggested the move won't do any harm.

"Just because certain employees are working within a different department it doesn't mean everybody's not working together within government," he said.

According to Boudreau the chief medical officer of health will still be able to rely on certain staff, even though they will be somewhere else.

'A cynical, self-serving move'

Green Party Leader David Coon says Boudreau is 'dismantling' the Chief Medical Officer of Health's team. (CBC)

David Coon, the Green Party leader and MLA for Fredericton South, called the restructuring a gutting of the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, saying it sabotages the department's ability to promote and protect public health.

"This is a cynical, self-serving move that is aimed to undermine the ability of the medical office of health to address issues that perhaps the government finds politically concerning," Coon said.

I will be surprised if some of those professionals stay with their work in these other departments.- David Coon, Green Party leader

"What the minister is doing is taking the team that works with the medical officer of health and dismantling it and shipping people off to various other departments."

According to Coon, these health professionals should be working as a team with the chief medical officer of health in her office, as they did before.

"I think we will see numbers of them leaving their jobs," Coon said. "I will be surprised if some of those professionals stay with their work in these other departments. It will be an entirely different mandate.

The healthy environments branch, which is supposed to help people maintain and improve their health by promoting healthy and safe living, will be moved to the Department of Environment, which has no mandate to protect public health, according to Coon.

Boudreau suggested people working under the Chief Medical Officer of Health were isolated and doing work also done by others.

The restructuring will bring cohesion and is about "making sure people were working with like-minded people and trying to eliminate some of the or duplications within the system," he said.

Health Minister Victor Boudreau says the restructuring will get rid of 'silos' and duplication. (CBC)

Coon said the government has said in the past that it would make the chief medical officer of health independent from government, which would mean that job would not have to report to the health minister.

"In some ways this clears the way for them to make good on that commitment, while taking away the resources that the medical officer of health needs to do their job," Coon said.

Hancock said it is important to have all departments of government involved in improving the health of the population.

"But you don't do it by taking the one part of your government that is committed to population health improvement and breaking it up he said."

About the Author

Maria Jose Burgos is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She is a recent graduate of the journalism program at St. Thomas University. She's originally from Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

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