May 21, 2024


She’s been in the role as interim since July 2022, but Margaret Melanson has been officially named the CEO and president of Horizon Health Network, after a nation-wide search by an independent firm.


Melanson held two vice-president positions prior to becoming interim CEO.


The network has been plagued by challenges in recent years – from understaffing to hospital bed shortages.


In an interview with CTV Atlantic, Melanson said she feels improvements have been made over the last 20 months, but recognizes there’s lots of work left to do.


And she’s prioritizing two areas she says are urgent.


“We really need primary care. Primary care access is foundational to the improvements within our health-care system,” she said. “And so I’m pleased that we did receive a reasonable primary care budget from government during the budget focus recently.”


She said Horizon intends to “utilize this as quickly as possible” to boost primary care in certain communities and launch a collaborative practice medical home model across the province.


The other area that needs immediate improvement – seniors waiting in hospital for long-term care.


Melanson said they are working with the Department of Social Development on improving the number of long-term care spaces and the speed of assessments.


“For us to have a much smoother and better integrated process for assessment and movement into long-term care capability, whether it is a nursing home or just services within their own homes, is also an area of focus and allows us then the bed capacity to be really integrating more of our surgical needs and other types of acute care needs that we have,” she said.


She mentioned she feels the province is prioritizing that issue more than ever before too.


Data provided by Horizon earlier this year showed the percentage of its hospital beds occupied by alternate level of care patients (ALC) – often seniors waiting for long-term care placements – was between 25-26 per cent in 2020-2023.


In January, it had reached about 35 per cent.


Melanson said she believes the province is working on a strategy to address the issue.


Phasing out the dependence on travel nurses


Melanson said another key area has been recruitment and retention of hospital staff. It’s an issue that’s been in the spotlight even more than usual, after a Globe and Mail investigation revealed Horizon and Vitalite health networks had signed multi-million dollar nursing contracts with private agencies.


The so-called travel nurses were critical to fill gaps in the system, otherwise beds would have had to close – according to Vitalite’s CEO.


The New Brunswick Nurses Union found in a five-month period in 2023 the health authorities spent almost $57 million on these contracts.


However, Melanson said recruitment and retention efforts are now seeing some improvements in staffing levels, allowing them to phase out the need for travel nurses.


“At this time, we are down to, I believe, less than 35 travel nurses across the organization,” she said. “We have a target to have all of those travel nurses phased out by August. That’s our intention at this time. And so we’re working hard on that strategy. We believe we will be successful by two things, by certainly our recruitment of additional staff, as well as the mentorship and orientation that we provide to our staff.”


She said communication between executive management and front-line staff is critical – and she’s now hearing from physicians weekly on challenges they’re facing and ways to improve the system.

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