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CEO leaves Fraser Health as big changes loom

Dr. Nigel Murray came to Fraser Health from New Zealand. He
Dr. Nigel Murray came to Fraser Health from New Zealand. He's resigned to return there, citing family reasons.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

Dr. Nigel Murray has stepped down as president and CEO of Fraser Health amid an extensive review that is expected to soon bring significant changes to the health region.

Murray served as the top administrator at Fraser for seven years and cited family reasons for returning to New Zealand, where he is in the running for a similar job.

No severance will be paid out because he's resigning.

Dr. David Ostrow, the former CEO of Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, takes over as interim CEO of Fraser Health.

The announcement is the latest shakeup at Fraser, where the former board chair David Mitchell was removed in April by the provincial government.

The board has since been chaired by Wynne Powell, the longtime board chair of the Provincial Health Services Authority who also chairs B.C. Emergency Services.

Powell said the strategic review committee is finalizing its recommendations for improvements at Fraser.

He wouldn't reveal details of the findings but suggested they point mainly to smarter use of Fraser's budget allocation.

"The conclusion they came to is funding is not the major issue," Powell said.

"It's not just about change, it's about helping drive better results and better outcomes. We've got to find a way to use the facilities in the best manner possible."

Powell said he thinks there are opportunities for improvement in community care and long-term care in particular.

"There's definitely got to be a refocusing of some of the moneys to help the system."

Health Minister Terry Lake announced the review last fall in response to Fraser's repeated failure to stay within its budget each year.

Lake at that time said the review could explore a redrawing of health authority boundaries.

Asked if Lower Mainland health authorities will be amalgamated now that Fraser is without a permanent CEO and board chair, Powell said he's heard "that rumour" but has seen nothing to substantiate it.

Fraser and Vancouver Coastal already jointly procure various services and supplies to save money.

Powell also responded to criticism that the detailed findings of the review team won't be released, but will instead be summarized within a new three-year strategic plan for Fraser.

He said the working papers of the committee are too complex for their public release to be helpful.

"It's not a matter of them being hidden, it's a matter of making sure they're interpreted correctly," he said.

During Murray's seven years at Fraser, the health region's budget climbed nearly 50 per cent, from $2.1 billion to $3.1 billion.

Even with the increase, local hospitals remain heavily congested and there's been steady criticism that Fraser gets a lower per capita share of health funding compared to other regions.

Powell said it's difficult to compare budgets of different health regions, because they perform different tasks.

He said the Vancouver Coastal and Provincial Health Services authorities spend enormous amounts on academic work and research that's "essential" to improving health care and finding efficiencies.

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