Margaret Melanson confirmed as permanent Horizon CEO

Margaret Melanson has been hired as the permanent president and CEO of Horizon Health Network. (Submitted by Horizon Health Network - image credit)
Margaret Melanson has been hired as the permanent president and CEO of Horizon Health Network. (Submitted by Horizon Health Network - image credit)

After two years as interim CEO, Margaret Melanson has been confirmed as the new permanent president and CEO of one of New Brunswick's two health authorities.

Melanson declined an interview request from CBC News after the announcement about what she's accomplished in the past two years and what she plans to do as Horizon addresses continuing health-care challenges in New Brunswick.

She was appointed CEO after Premier Blaine Higgs fired Dr. John Dornan in 2022. She was Horizon's vice-president clinical services at the time.

The premier fired Dornan and dropped his health minister after a man died while awaiting care in an emergency department's waiting room. The province was later ordered to pay out $2 million to Dornan for unjust dismissal.

A news release from Horizon said Melanson has worked to address health care challenges by focusing on four priorities: "access to services, patient flow, recruitment and retention, and patient experience." The release does not provide further information.

Liberal health critic Rob McKee said he's glad to see the interim tag removed from the CEO position, because it means more stability for the health network.

"I feel like it's been holding things back. They've been moving at a snail's pace in terms of addressing some of the major health-care issues that we're seeing, and hopefully removing the interim tag will allow her to fulfil her obligations," he said.

Hired by a board fully appointed by minister

The CEO is hired by the Horizon board. Since her appointment, the government passed legislation that removed the elected members of the board. The remaining seven members are all appointed by the minister of health.

Stephanie Collin, professor of health management at the Université de Moncton, said it's a typical to see interim CEOs become permanent in New Brunswick, even before the Higgs government, so this decision is not surprising.

She said it's difficult to tell how much politics played a role in choosing the CEO.

"It brings questions, I think, in people minds," she said. "What is the the real power of the board? But what is also the real hand ... of the CEO, if there's a direct link here with the government?"

Melanson was at the centre of controversy when leaked audio revealed that she asked an Ambulance New Brunswick dispatcher to break the service's own policy by transporting a patient from his home in Fredericton to the Saint John Regional Hospital. In the audio, she said, "This is a political issue," and that Premier Blaine Higgs was "upset."

Long-term care patients and hospital beds

The last time Melanson spoke to media, it was in response to complaints of filthy and overflowing ERs over the holidays and diverted ambulances.

In January, Melanson said the health authority was making progress in improving wait times at emergency departments, but there's much work yet to be done when it comes to people waiting in hospital for long-term care.

As of January there were a total of 542 people waiting in Horizon hospitals for nursing home or special care home beds, Melanson previously said, representing 33 per cent of Horizon's total inpatient beds.

Horizon's four regional hospitals have an average overall occupancy level of 106 per cent, she said at the time, while the national benchmark is 85 per cent.