N.S. Premier, new health system leadership team to tour province to hear from front-line workers

On his first full day in office, Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston fired the CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) and announced a new leadership team to improve health care in the province.

During a live news conference Wednesday morning, Houston announced the CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA), Brendan Carr, was leaving his post and the 14 member health board was being dismissed.

According to the provincial government, the board members are not paid but Carr will receive about $400,000 in severance.

“I want to thank Dr. Carr and the board of directors at the Nova Scotia Health Authority for their service,” said Houston. “This new team will work with the frontline health-care workers and system leaders to drive the changes that Nova Scotians asked for.”

A four-person leadership team is now in place. The team will be led by Karen Oldfield, who has been appointed interim CEO of the NSHA. The province says Oldfield previously served in the office of former premier John Hamm and was CEO of the Halifax Port Authority.

Working with Oldfield will be Jeannine Lagasse, Dr. Kevin Orrell and Janet Davidson.

“I’ve said all along that transformational change was needed to improve health care and it starts today,” said Houston. “We’ve put an experienced team in place with a mandate to listen, make decisions and take quick action. They will remove the barriers that are getting in the way of change and providing better health care to Nova Scotians.”

Lagasse has been appointed deputy minister of the Department of Health and Wellness after serving as associate deputy minister.

Orrell has been appointed CEO of the newly created Office of Health Care Professionals Recruitment and is the former deputy minister of Health and Wellness.

Orrell's office will report directly to Thompson and its job will be to recruit and retain doctors, nurses, continuing-care assistants (CCAs), paramedics and other health professionals.Orrell said the province is at "very low capacity" regarding the number of professionals it needs to deliver quality care.

"Thousands of people are looking for family doctors, there's a vacancy rate of 20 per cent for nurses and CCAs are in short supply, challenging our long-term care homes," he said.

Recruitment, Orrell added, needs to be "stepped up" and streamlined in order for Nova Scotia to remain competitive with other provinces.

Orrell used the example of his daughter, a newly trained doctor, who he said met barriers when she tried to return home to Nova Scotia to work. "It took months of very awkward negotiation before she was offered the job, but luckily she was dedicated to coming back to the province," he said.

The team also includes Davidson who has been appointed as the administrator of the Nova Scotia Health Authority. She is the former chair of the NSHA board of directors and was interim CEO of the NSHA in 2019. Davidson’s previous roles include deputy minister of Health in Alberta and CEO of Toronto East General Hospital.

The administrator role replaces the former 14 member health board.

"When I received the email this morning from the Minister's office, I was taken back,” said Dr. OmiSoore Dryden, the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies and an associate professor in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology at Dalhousie University.

Dryden was only appointed to the board in March. She is the first Black person to sit on the NSHA Health Board.

"I'm just deeply saddened that I didn't get a chance to kind of get into, I didn't get a chance to complete my term and to complete the work that the board was engaged in and so I'm saddened by that and we'll see what the next steps are,” said Dryden.

Replacing Lagasse as associate deputy minister at Health and Wellness will be Craig Beaton, a former senior executive director at the department.

Liberal Leader Iain Rankin said Carr and the board have done "tremendous" work over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and he expressed disappointment that health management was being "condensed to four people."Rankin said the board was a more diverse reflection of the province's population because it had a Black member and an Indigenous member.

"We need diverse voices at the leadership table, especially in places like health care, so my view is that this is a step backwards," he said.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill also panned the announcement, noting that his party had been part of a recent battle to get the health authority board meetings opened to the public.

"Having that board done away with, we've lost that transparency, we've lost that accountability -- that's of great concern," said Burrill.

Meantime, the Nova Scotia Health Coalition says while it's good to see decisive action taking place, they aren't clear how the changes announced Wednesday will solve problems.

"The major problems that really occurred after 2014 when the merger of the health authorities happened is there is too much centralization, there was no local representation and it was really undemocratic and all  this is doing is further centralizing decision making," said Chris Parsons.

With files from The Canadian Press.