The Minister of Health and Long-Term Care has appointed Robert Devitt as the new interim president and CEO of eHealth Ontario. Devitt’s appointment is effectively immediately, running August 4 to December 31.
Devitt follows Ron Sapsford, who acted as CEO for the past two months after president and CEO Sarah Kramer had her appointment pulled in the wake of controversy about millions of dollars in untendered contracts. “A lot of work has been at eHealth over the last couple of months under Ron Sapsford’s leadership,” said Devitt.
“Ron’s run the first leg and I think done so very, very well. He’s now handed the baton to me and it’s my job to run it effectively and efficiently and ensure we continue to purse the eHealth agenda, so by the end of December, I can hand it off to the anchor runner who’s going to then run it for the long term,” said Devitt.
Devitt’s plans for the next four months include following through with projects already underway, such as the Ontario Diabetes Registry and the pharmacy initiative. “I’ve got to make sure to continue to move those along, on time and on budget,” he said.
But Step 1 is getting “my crash course in eHealth, the organization,” he said. “That will start first thing in the morning.”
“The first thing I’ll do, and I’ll start tomorrow morning when I go down to the eHealth office, is get to know the organization very quickly. By that I mean understanding the organization’s structure, the policy, framework and the people who work there. There’s a lot of people I think I need to reach out to – the staff across the organization,” said Devitt.
Devitt has served as president and CEO of Toronto East General Hospital since 2004 and will continue this role one day per week. Prior to Toronto East, Devitt served as president and CEO of the Peterborough Regional Health Centre and the Queensway-Carleton Hospital. He also served a one-year appointment as supervisor of the Scarborough Hospital in August 2007.
Devitt’s broad base of experience in healthcare leadership and top-notch pedigree are important for the role, said Ontario-based independent technology industry analyst Carmi Levy. “You really need someone who’s been in the trenches, who’s lived the challenges that eHealth is trying to address,” he said.
But Levy wonders why eHealth keeps pushing forward with interim appointments. “What eHealth needs right now is a permanent leader and not simply another time table for another leadership change at the end of the year, which is what we’re looking at now,” he said.
eHealth needs to move very quickly to put the contract and spending scandal behind, according to Levy. “It needs to get people to forget about Sarah Kramer and focus on the good things it’s trying to do for more efficient, next-generation healthcare services delivery in Ontario,” he said.
What is decidedly absent from Devitt’s tenure is any kind of strategic vision or any kind of change in that strategic vision from what we’ve seen before – and that’s really what eHealth needs to be focusing on, said Levy.
“It needs a leader right now who can not only deliver what has already been committed to but also begin to articulate that vision for where eHealth goes from here … He’s not going to have a lot of impact because he’s going to be gone before he even has a chance to start pondering those questions,” said Levy.
Devitt is the “right person at the right time for the right role,” according to Levy. “My question is, ‘Why only four months?’”
If Devitt lives up to the role and performs as promised, it would be in everyone’s best interest that he continue past December and simply remove the interim from his title, Levy suggested. “If he does not stay on after this, then eHealth will be looking at yet another transition in leadership and yet another delay in its efforts to look forward, not back,” he said.
Sapsford didn’t have the opportunity to make a significant impact either, Levy noted. “He was in an unenviable position of being a caretaker in the aftermath of a relatively high-profile scandal, and so there really wasn’t a whole lot he could do, beyond put the fires out and make sure they didn’t flare up again,” he said.
But Sapsford did well in his role, according to Levy. “As soon as he took over, the never-ending torrent of negative headlines stopped. So as a crisis manger, he did a very good job,” he said.