Malcom stands tall

John Malcom doubtless didn’t enjoy having to respond to a scathing Auditor General’s report on his last week as CEO of the Cape Breton District Health Authority. Doing so, however, gave him one last chance to demonstrate the exemplary leadership he displayed in 15 years as head of the authority.

Jacques Lapointe released a harsh report on operational shortcomings at the district and provincial levels that contributed to two outbreaks of C. difficile bacteria—infections that caused five deaths.

“As CEO, the biggest mistake is my mistake,” Malcom told reporters Wednesday, in response to the report. “I under-resourced the infection control department. So I accept that responsibility as mine.”

Of course the time to admit a mistake is when you realize you have made one, but in practice, such admissions are rare. When issued, they tend to ring down the curtain on criticism, when a less forthright response can lead to endless curtain calls. I would be surprised if my friend Greg Boone, the CBDHA’s gifted director of communications, had not encouraged Malcom’s response, but it was the CEO himself who had the stand before the cameras and manfully chow down humble pie.

It’s an open secret among provincial officials and politicians that humble pie is rarely found on Lapointe’s bill of fare. This is an auditor general who enjoys his frequent sashays through the media spotlight. Since the Infection Prevention and Control Nova Scotia and the Public Health Agency of Canada had already carried out and reported on investigations of the Cape Breton outbreak, Lapointe could be accused of piling on, or even shooting fish in a barrel, by instigating a third pass through this well-hoed soil.

As usual, certain details of Lapointe’s report seem overstated, most obviously his complaint that Cape Breton health care workers don’t always wash their hands between patients. This is no doubt true, but it simply restates an intractable problem known to persist at hospitals around the world. For further proof, check the hilarious efforts Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles undertook to get its doctors to wash their hands, as recounted by Freakonomics authors Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt in the New York Times.

I’m going to miss John Malcom. So is Cape Breton.