N.S. premier, health minister fire provincial health authority CEO and board
Board to be replaced by former chair, who will serve as an administrator
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston and Health Minister Michelle Thompson have fired the CEO of the provincial health authority and the entire board.
Houston and Thompson, who were sworn in along with the rest of cabinet on Tuesday, made the announcement during a news conference on Wednesday.
"I think sometimes it's just you have to hit reset. It's time to hit reset at the Nova Scotia Health Authority," Houston told reporters. "It's time to refocus the efforts."
As the Tories embark on their efforts to overhaul the health-care system and delivery of care in the province, Houston said he felt he needed a clean slate at the helm of his leadership team.
"What I felt the urgency to do was get a team of people in place and give them the tools that they need to get the job done, and this is the team of people that I trust, I have great faith in."
Team includes familiar faces
Gone from the health authority is Dr. Brendan Carr, who was hired as CEO in 2019. He is being replaced by Karen Oldfield on an interim basis. Oldfield, who has no health-care experience, was CEO of the Halifax Port Authority for 17 years and worked for former premier John Hamm. Houston did not say how long she'll hold the post.
The Nova Scotia Health board is being replaced by Janet Davidson, who will serve as an administrator. Davidson was the interim CEO of Nova Scotia Health prior to Carr's hiring and most recently was chair of the health authority's board until it was dismissed.
Jeannine Lagasse is being promoted from associate deputy minister of the Health Department to deputy minister. The former deputy, Dr. Kevin Orrell, is being appointed CEO of the newly minted Office of Health Care Professionals Recruitment. That office reports directly to the health minister and will focus on recruiting and retaining doctors, nurses, continuing-care assistants (CCAs), paramedics and other professionals.
Craig Beaton, a former senior executive director at the Health Department, moves into the associate deputy role.
Houston said the changes are about putting people in roles where they can be successful. He's confident Orrell will be successful in his new post and the premier said he's "incredibly impressed" by Davidson's commitment to health care and to the province.
"For me, this is about sending the message that the focus that I had on health care during the campaign is even stronger right now."
Orrell touched on the immense need for health-care workers in the province, a challenge governments across the country face.
"Tens of thousands of people are looking for family doctors, there's a vacancy rate in the health authorities of 20 per cent for nurses and CCAs are in short supply, challenging our long-term care homes," he said.
He told reporters a story about his daughter, a doctor who trained out West, and the hurdles she had to overcome when she tried to return home to practise in Nova Scotia and fill a vacancy that existed for eight years.
"Luckily, she was dedicated to coming back to the province."
Orrell said he also wants to do away with the idea that given areas only need a certain number of health-care workers.
"We need the number of people that is necessary to provide care and that should be our quota."
'We know there are barriers'
Oldfield said she and the new leadership team are ready for the job.
"We're ready to work with front-line health-care staff and leadership inside government and at [the health authority] to get the health system functioning the way it should," she told reporters.
Oldfield pledged a more streamlined approach to decision-making.
"We know there are barriers and it's our job — the job of this team — to remove them."
One of the team's first orders of business will be a tour of the province with Houston and Thompson from Sept. 20-23 to hear from front-line health-care professionals.
"No one knows the issues better than the people who work bedside and deliver care every single day," said Houston. "We want to hear what they have to say, we want to listen to them, we want to work with them on solutions."
A spokesperson for the Health Department said Carr's severance will be about $400,000. Orrell, who serves at the pleasure of the government, will continue to do so at the same terms as his deputy minister contract. Contract details are still being finalized for Oldfield and Davidson.
Opposition leaders lamented the lack of diversity among the ranks of the leadership team.
Liberal Leader Iain Rankin and NDP Leader Gary Burrill both noted the board only recently took on its first Black member, Dalhousie University associate professor OmiSoore Dryden, and its first Indigenous member, Stephen Augustine, both of whom were part of the group dismissed.
Burrill also noted the board only in recent years made itself fully open to the public by making minutes from meetings available and the meetings themselves open.
"The public will no longer have access to the mechanisms of that level of decision-making," he said. "I think this sounds a very unhelpful and sour note for the beginning of the [new government's] decision-making in health."
For her part, Dryden, who learned of the news in an email Wednesday morning, said she was stunned.
"I wasn't expecting it. It really felt like it came out of the blue," she said in an interview.
Dryden said she knew changes would come with the new government, but didn't expect them to be so far-reaching. She felt the board was beginning come together as a group. She said she has concerns about the lack of diversity with the new leadership team, although she's reserving judgment pending a phone call she has scheduled with Thompson at the minister's request.
"Without having that conversation with her, what it seems like is that there is a lack of expertise in this new iteration of responsibility for N.S. Health. So, while everybody is responsible for addressing systemic racism, confronting and addressing anti-Black racism — especially with the ways in which it affects health disparities, health access and health equities — I don't know if the current four-member team has that experience."
Wednesday's announcement follows a cabinet makeup intended to help put into action Houston's plans for health care.
Along with Thompson, a long-term registered nurse and former long-term care CEO, physiotherapist Barb Adams, the MLA for Eastern Passage, is minister of the newly created Seniors and Long-Term Care Department. Mental health nurse Brian Comer becomes minister responsible for the Office of Mental Health and Addictions.
Adams told reporters on Tuesday that she expects the three ministers and their respective departments and office to have a close working relationship.
"We're going to do the exact same thing we would have done when we were working as health professionals and that is looking at the priorities of the departments that we have and making sure that they're all working together well."