Health boss quits, critics relieved

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Bente Mikkelsen, who’s been at the center of a storm of criticism over health care in southeastern Norway, quit her top bureaucratic post Thursday night, a week after finally admitting to poor planning in the opening of Akershus University Hospital.

Bente Mikkelsen tried to put a positive spin on her departure as a top health bureaucrat in the Oslo area when she appeared on NRK’s nightly news program Thursday. The leader of local hospital doctors was glad to see her go. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Mikkelsen insisted on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s nightly news program Dagsrevyen Thursday that she chose to resign after being offered a new post at the UN’s World Health Organisation in Geneva. She claimed she was not asked to give up her post as chief executive of Helse Sør-Øst, the state agency in charge of hospitals and health care in the area around Oslo.

“I received a very exciting offer within global health that I didn’t want to turn down,” Mikkelsen claimed on NRK’s nationwide nightly news program. “I was not asked to leave.”

Also appearing on the program was Norway’s new Health Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who was transferred from his highly respected role as foreign minister last month to take over the severely troubled health ministry. Støre had been expected to quickly fire Mikkelsen after years of complaints and criticism especially from doctors and nurses about her leadership.

Instead he claimed Mikkelsen merely wanted a new job after “seven demanding years” in the state health bureaucracy. He also claimed she was “not asked to go,” rather that he was “made aware that she wanted to do other things after seven years in a very demanding position. We are now glad to be able to offer her that, and at the same time offer her position to a very good health leader.”

Mikkelsen will be succeeded by Peder Olsen, a former chairman of several divisions of Helse Sør-Øst whom Støre had removed just last month. His appointment is temporary, pending a search for a new Helse Sør-Øst boss.

New Health Minister Jonas Gahr Støre also seemed to try to take on the role of spin doctor Thursday night, avoiding acknowledgment that Mikkelsen was the target of massive criticism and complaints. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

While Støre and Mikkelsen tried to put the best possible spin on her immediate resignation Thursday night, few were sorry to see her go. Mikkelsen has been a hotly disputed leader and widely blamed for much of the trauma around massive hospital reorganization in Oslo in recent years. The situation at the still-new Akershus University Hospital in Lørenskog has been critical since it took responsibility for 160,000 people that it couldn’t accommodate because of inadequate staffing. Several patient deaths have been linked to inadequate staffing and competence at the new hospital.

Mikkelsen finally apologized for the poor planning last week, and said she was sorry the hospital employees have had to bear the burden of it. The board of Helse Sør-Øst then claimed it still had confidence in her, as did Støre.

Health care professionals clearly did not. A representative for many doctors in the university hospital system in Oslo, Dr Christian Grimsgaard, told NRK he thought Mikkelsen’s departure came too late. He’s also skeptical about her replacement.

“She sat in the job too long,” Grimsgaard told NRK. “They (the health ministry officials ultimately in charge) have been too slow in taking our warnings seriously. That has led to problems at the hospitals and affected care for patients, especially in Oslo.”

He said it’s critical that more changes be made within hospital management. “It’s very important with change at Helse Sør-Øst now,” Grimsgaard said. “Mikkelsen couldn’t lead us out of the hard going she led us into. It was expected that changes would be made, but I’m surprised it took such a long time.

“The most important thing now is to get management who can rebuild confidence between Helse Sør-Øst and the employees.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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