Premier Blaine Higgs replaces N.B. health minister after patient dies in ER

Click to play video: 'Patient dies in waiting room of N.B. emergency room'
Patient dies in waiting room of N.B. emergency room
A patient died this week while in the waiting room of the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton. A man who witnessed the incident in the ER is speaking out – saying the health-care system is in a dire situation. Nathalie Sturgeon reports – Jul 13, 2022

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has shuffled out his health minister and fired the CEO of Horizon Health Network following the death of a patient in an emergency department waiting room in Fredericton.

He announced the decision on Friday, adding that both the elected boards for Vitalite and Horizon had been removed. A board of trustees will be appointed in their place.

“Like all of you, I was appalled when I heard of a patient passing away while waiting to be seen in hospital,” he said in an address to reporters. “This is simply unacceptable.”

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On Friday, Higgs pointed the blame toward management.

“It’s not up to me to run the health-care authorities or health-care authorities but it is up to me to ensure that the right people are in the position to do so and it starts at the top,” he said. “I believe it is a management issue, I believe there was no co-ordination of activity and that’s what I’m trying to drive home here. If we don’t get better management results in our hospitals, we won’t get better health care.”

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Bruce Fitch will replace Dorothy Shephard as minister of health. She returns to social development, effectively swapping the two.

“As a government, we must engage our front-line workers, our doctors and nurses to be part of solution,” he said.

Higgs said he’s asked Horizon Health Network to review the situation that occurred on July 12, but if he isn’t satisfied, he will ask for an external review but didn’t elaborate on the format.

The incident

John Staples, who spoke with Global News on Wednesday, witnessed what happened at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital on July 12.

He said in an interview that he arrived at the ER at around midnight, and the waiting room was fairly full. Staples said he saw a person who appeared to be in physical discomfort sitting in a wheelchair.

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An hour had passed before a nurse emerged to check on that particular patient. That’s when Staples noticed he wasn’t breathing.

“Then three more people came out and they wheeled the individual back and called the code blue and it was confirmed that the individual had passed,” he said.

He said in a previous interview that the whole thing showed him just how dire the health-care situation is.

Staples said he could tell the nurses and staff were stressed and stretched very thin and believes those who were there that night did everything they could to save the person’s life.

Horizon Health Network did confirm the death to Global News on Wednesday.

Calls from opposition

In the immediate aftermath, opposition leaders called for both Shephard’s resignation and a coroner’s inquest into the death.

Memramcook-Tantramar Green MLA Megan Mitton called for immediate solutions amid a worsening situation facing health-care workers and the sector.

Liberal health critic Jean-Claude D’Amours wanted Shephard to resign, saying she failed to make meaningful change with respect to recruitment and retention.

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The system continues to face strain, though.

Multiple emergency departments have dealt with temporary closures, some with health-care worker shortages, and ambulance offload delays.

Many organizations, including the New Brunswick Medical Society and New Brunswick Nurses Union, warned of the worsening system, especially heading into the summer vacation season.

On Friday, NBMS president Dr. Mark MacMillan said the organization supports the government’s decision.

“The health system is in crisis, and addressing this crisis will require swift and difficult decisions. We support any such decision that ultimately leads to meaningful change in the quality of care available to New Brunswickers,” he said in an email statement.

MacMillan did thank both Shephard and John Dornan for their service.

“We also want to take this opportunity to thank Dr. John Dornan for his service as CEO of Horizon Health Network. Dr. Dornan inherited an impossible situation and did an admirable job guiding Horizon under incredibly challenging circumstances,” he said.

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