FREDERICTON -- The CEOs of New Brunswick's two regional health authorities are defending a plan that would have seen a reform of the province's health-care system, including the overnight closure of emergency departments at six community hospitals.

The two executives appeared before a committee of the New Brunswick legislature Wednesday to face questions about the plan that was halted Sunday night by Premier Blaine Higgs.

Higgs said there were gaps in the plan that prompted him to reverse course and has since vowed to visit the six communities and hold a health summit in June.

The backlash against the plan resulted in one government member saying he couldn't support it and the resignation of the deputy premier to sit as an Independent. It has left the minority Progressive Conservative government in the precarious position of facing a confidence vote on its March 10 budget or possibly calling an early election.

Vitalite CEO Gilles Lanteigne said Wednesday health reforms are always difficult.

"In Canada for as long as I can remember, in every province, I don't think there has been a reform that has been received with open arms," he said. "People are concerned. Health services are very emotional. They are very personal."

He defended the aborted plan as "based on serious reflections on data and evidence .... I think there are going to be further changes in these hospitals, but I think the plan is solid."

While the premier complained of gaps in the planning, Lanteigne said there was a rollout plan to implement the changes.

Horizon CEO Karen McGrath said that implementation plan never got off the ground.

"What we started was in fact notification of our staff impacted by workforce adjustment. This plan has been in the works since September of last year," McGrath told the committee.

Under questioning, McGrath said she didn't believe the changes would put patients at risk.

"If you're asking me if I would forward a plan to government when I believed that people would die as a result of my plan? That would never happen," she said.

If the plan had gone ahead, effective March 11, emergency departments in Sussex, Sackville, Perth-Andover, Ste-Anne-de-Kent, Caraquet and Grand Falls would have closed from midnight to 8 a.m.

The six communities would have received added mental health services, and 120 acute care beds would have been converted to long-term chronic care beds, mainly for seniors awaiting a nursing home bed.

Officials said the changes would allow physicians and nurse practitioners to see more patients in the daytime.

This report was first published by The Canadian Press Feb 19. 2020.