Eastern Health CEO resigns

Vickie Kaminski accepts Alberta health authority’s top job

Published on March 15, 2014
Eastern Health CEO Vickie Kaminski announces her resignation, effective May 31, at a news conference Friday. — Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

The woman hired in 2009 to take over Eastern Health in the wake of a massive health-care scandal has quit.

Board chairman Michael O’Keefe announced Friday he accepted the resignation of Vickie Kaminski, president and CEO of Eastern Health, effective May 31.

Kaminski has been appointed president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services to nearly four million people living in Alberta. The appointment takes effect June 1.

Speaking to reporters Friday afternoon, Kaminski said it was a tough decision to leave Eastern Health for the new position in Alberta.

“It is probably one of the toughest places I’ve ever had to leave,” she said. “It gets in your heart and your soul and certainly makes you want to stay and come back often.”

A firm tasked with filling the position for Alberta Health Services contacted Kaminski in late January and asked if she would consider offering herself as a candidate for the job. After taking some time to think about it, she agreed to do so.

“It wasn’t that I was actively looking at all,” she said. “My contract here doesn’t expire until June, and I was thinking about another three years here.”

Kaminski was appointed to the Eastern Health job in the wake of a scandal over errors in testing to determine breast cancer treatment and the subsequent Cameron Inquiry probing the debacle.

She admitted Friday the regional health authority was “battered and bruised” coming out of the scandal. She said Eastern Health has become a more confident organization in the years since she took over as its president and CEO.

As for her own challenges, Kaminski said it was not always easy handling the job as a come-from-away in Newfoundland and Labrador. She also spoke of the need to ensure Eastern Health operated as a transparent organization.

“Nobody likes to hear about problems, and problems in health care are scary, and when you have to bring that kind of news out, finding the way to do that so you don’t upset people any more than they need to be, but you have to give them the facts. I think that was always a bit of a balancing act,” Kaminski said.



NDP MHA Gerry Rogers, a breast cancer survivor who was affected by the errors, said Friday she wishes Kaminski well. However, she said she still has concerns about health care in the province, particularly after different testing errors came to light in February.

“She was at the helm at the time of the government’s greatest secrecy, which extended to health care,” Rogers said, referring to the Tory government policies.

Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses’ Association president Debbie Forward said Kaminski had difficult budgetary choices to make, but that was out of her control since the province decides health-care spending. Forward said issues remain about workloads, and staffing and stability will be a concern as a new CEO takes over.

Liberal health critic Andrew Parsons said Kaminski had a huge undertaking on her plate in 2009.

“The experience has served her well.”

He said he hopes the authority will move quickly to find a new CEO.

The recruitment of a replacement for Kaminski will begin soon, O’Keefe said.

Premier Tom Marshall thanked Kaminski in a news release for her outstanding service.

“Ms. Kaminski came to our province at a difficult time and she has helped restore faith in our health-care system, something for which we will forever be grateful,” he said.


On the job

Kaminski’s reign at Eastern Health had its own pitfalls.

Among them, in February, Eastern Health announced nine breast cancer patients got the wrong results from a test to determine their treatment for breast cancer.

The tests this time around are related to human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) and were started at Eastern Health in April 2013 instead of sending them out of province. For certain cases, a further test called HER2 Dual ISH is needed. That determines whether patients take a drug called Herceptin.

Due to the wrong results, eight of nine affected patients were taking Herceptin, while one opted not to take the medication, which has a potential side-effect of cardiotoxicity, possibly leading to congestive heart failure.

The patients have been taken off the drugs and the testing related to the errors halted.

The authority said the errors were caught as a result of the lessons learned from the scandal that led to the Cameron Inquiry.

Kaminski’s predecessor, George Tilley, resigned in the midst of the scandal in which some 386 patients received the wrong result from botched hormone receptor tests from 1997 to 2005 from the immunohistochemistry lab at the General Hospital. 

Many of those patients have since died and the Cameron Inquiry into the scandal led to mass changes in Eastern Health's pathology lab and administration.

Previously, Kaminski had been the president and chief executive officer of Hospital Regional de Sudbury Regional Hospital.

She spoke Friday of good projects nearing completion, like the new long-term care homes set to replace the Hoyles-Escasoni Complex, new treatment centres and a new long-term care facility in Carbonear.

Kaminski said her successor will likely need to look at improving emergency room wait times, assessing long-term care needs and staffing issues.

“When we look at the age of the work force here, there’s going to be lots of retirements in the next several years, and I think filling those gaps in the staffing schedules are going to be a challenge for everybody.”

Her new position will be a challenging one, taking into account the makeup of Alberta’s health-care system. Alberta Health Services is the lone health authority in the province, with 145,000 employees and a budget of morenthan $14 billion.

“When you compare it to here, which is 12,500 employees and a $1.4-billion budget, it’s about 10 times bigger than what we’ve got here and (has) many of the same kinds of issues,” she said. “It’s the next logical progression for me.”