The head of the Vitalité Health Network says the plan to cut emergency room hours at six rural hospitals was solid, but the emotional backlash against the plan makes consultation necessary.
“The proposals that we made were very good, were very sound, were evidence-based,” said Gilles Lanteigne, the president and chief executive officer of Vitalité.
Last week, the province announced plans to close emergency rooms overnight at hospitals in Grand Falls, Caraquet, Sussex, Perth-Andover, Sackville and Sainte-Anne-de-Kent.
But on Sunday evening, after days of criticism from the six communities, Premier Blaine Higgs announced the plan, set to go into effect March 11, would be postponed while the public is consulted about the changes.
Higgs blamed the plan’s proponents for the failed plan, saying they left too many questions unanswered.
“The implementation plan was just not well thought out,” Higgs said Monday.
“I didn’t expect there would be so many gaps in the rollout plan.”
Lanteigne said the health authorities have a lot of the answers and expected to address remaining questions in the month leading up the change, although the public reaction would’ve made that difficult.
“Obviously, there were things that needed to be tied up and this is why we had the time to tie these things up,” said Lanteigne.
“But the emotion was so strong that it was very hard to get some of these answers before the people.”
He also said Vitalité had done plenty of consultation about aspects of the plan before the announcement.
“We have a clinical plan that has been elaborated by existential internal consultation,” he said.
One good thing about the public response to the ER changes in the past week is that New Brunswickers may now have a better understanding of the precarious position the provincial health-care system is in, Lanteigne said.
Grand Falls Mayor Marcel Deschênes said Tuesday that there was no real consultation, either for the community or people working in the hospitals.
“It was not done right,” said Deschênes.
“Nobody had been consulted. We got consulted an hour before the press conference. It was not consultation, it was just to tell us what was coming.”
Plan not dead
Higgs said there will be public consultations on the future of health care in the affected communities this spring, with the results of those consultations being released in the fall.
This means the plan to cut hours at the emergency rooms isn’t dead yet.
Perth-Andover Mayor Marianne Bell said her community is willing to compromise on some things, but the burden shouldn’t fall on rural areas alone.
“We’re really just a drop in the bucket,” said Bell.
“They can’t be trying to tinker with things in the small communities and think that’s going to solve the problem for the province.”
Lanteigne said he believes he still has the confidence of both the premier and the government.
Horizon Health CEO Karen McGrath refused to comment.