New Brunswick

National public health group has 'serious concerns' about N.B. restructuring

A national non-profit is criticizing changes made to the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health by the Gallant government.

'Quite honestly, it just doesn’t make sense'

Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association, says the organization sees scant evidence the changes were necessary. (CBC)

A national public health organization says changes the New Brunswick government made to the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health don't make sense.

The Canadian Public Health Association published an open letter to Health Minister Benoît Bourque outlining its concerns.

"We are concerned that the announced changes to the organization of the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health may result in a reduction in the level and efficiency of services provided to the citizens of New Brunswick," says the letter published on the association's website.

Under the restructuring, many staff members and their responsibilities have been moved from the Office of the Chief Medical Health Officer to other departments, including Public Safety and Social Development.

"There was scant evidence provided to support the proposed organizational changes," the association said.

The announcement of the changes in August set off immediate alarm bells for the national association, which is not the first to raise questions.

"Quite honestly, it just doesn't make sense to us to break up a public health team," said Ian Culbert, executive director of the association.

"We have serious concerns about what could happen to normal services for public health activities in the province, but also what could happen if there was an emergency."

Rare move for association

Controversy surrounding the firing of Dr. Eilish Cleary from the top public health job is part of the province's poor track record in the area in recent years, Culbert suggested. (CBC)

Culbert said the association doesn't usually publish open letters to government but felt it was necessary in this case.

"This is not the type of advocacy we typically do, but we felt the lack of response from the Government of New Brunswick was a cause for concern," said Culbert.

"Certainly, the government of New Brunswick has not had a great track record when it come to the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health."

Culbert was referring to controversies surrounding public health administration in recent years, including the secrecy over the ousting of Eilish Cleary from the top job.

Communication, legislation concerns

The association is looking for legislative changes to allow staff that used to be part of the Office of the Chief Medical Health Officer to continue to do their jobs (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Governments aren't always good at keeping lines of communication open between departments, Culbert said, but the public health changes make communication an even greater concern.

"We know that government departments don't have, necessarily, the right to share this kind of information with each other," he said.

"There [has] to be legislative or regulatory tools put in place to make sure that they can share that information."

The association said legislative changes are also needed to make sure employees can continue to do their jobs.

"We have heard that staff from the office of the chief medical officer of health who are being moved to the Department of Social Development are supposed to be working on a breastfeeding initiative," Culbert said.

"But the legislative authority for that initiative rests with the Department of Health. So those staff are going to be moved to a new department, but they can't do their jobs because they don't have their legislative authority to do that."

The group also called for clear goals and and a performance measurement system.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton