Nfld. & Labrador

Not surprised staff leaving Eastern Health: ex-CEO

The former head of Eastern Health says he is not surprised to see colleagues leave the beleaguered St. John's-based health authority.

The former head of Eastern Health says he is not surprised to see colleagues leave the beleaguered St. John's-based health authority.

George Tilley, who resigned as Eastern Health's chief executive officer last July, returned to the Cameron inquiry Monday to complete his testimony.

Tilley resigned after government lost confidence in him. A controversial review of a suspended radiologist's work was cited as the defining cause, but it followed weeks of controversy over flawed breast cancer testing.

When inquiry co-counsel Bern Coffey asked how he reacted to his departure, Tilley said, "Punched, feeling that 30 years of work was valuing less and less."

The inquiry, which is examining what went wrong with flawed hormone receptor tests and with how officials responded, has heard that Eastern Health had no coherent system for contacting patients about the problems, even though it had assured cabinet ministers that all patients had been contacted.

Tilley testified Monday that he accepted responsibility for the problems during a meeting last year with Health Minister Ross Wiseman.

Tilley told the inquiry that an inferior database made it impossible to know whether all patients had been contacted.

"The system does not have the level of automation that I think a lot of people in other industries have," Tilley said.

"It makes a situation, when you literally have hundreds of patients, near impossible to manage appropriately."

Eastern Health came into being in early 2005 when the provincial government amalgamated seven regional hospital, nursing home and community health boards, as well as a provincewide board responsible for cancer care.

While the authority was still organizing itself, and grappling with what Tilley has previously described as a reduced budget, it learned of serious mistakes with hormone receptor testing, which help determine the course of treatment that breast cancer patients receive.

In recent weeks, two pathologists have tendered their resignations at Eastern Health, although one, Dr. Dan Fontaine, said his resignation is due not to the inquiry but to the lack of staffing and resources in his workplace.

Tilley, who was since hired by the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation, said he has spoken with former colleagues since he returned to St. John's last month to testify.

"This has got to be one of the most demanding management times for that organization," he told Justice Margaret Cameron.

"Staff are feeling a tremendous amount of anxiety, and I don't only put it down to the commission. I think that over the past year there's been a lot of media attention to that organization, and I believe some of it is very unfair, and that organization needs a lot of support and attention," Tilley said.

"It's not a surprise to me that people are choosing to look elsewhere."