Keeping hospital plans secret an insult to local taxpayers

The recent concerns raised around future services at Northumberland Hills Hospital is a major misstep as it keeps its plans under wraps rather than being transparent.
Rumours wildly circulating around the possible closure of the palliative care unit that looks after fatally ill people raised the ire of former hospital chief fundraiser Bill Patchett recently.
Of course, the rumours are not being confirmed by hospital Chief Executive Officer Robert Biron, despite the fact that he is withholding a special panel report submitted Jan. 16 with details regarding deficit-cutting measures.
There is also a balanced budget plan already adopted by the hospital board. With a $1.8 million projected deficit facing the hospital administration, there are no doubt some tough choices have been already made. All of this done behind closed doors.
However, Biron’s logic in keeping this covert is a breach of accountability by a public institution and an insult to the community.
Residents in West Northumberland raised an astronomical $24 million towards the $75 million hospital, according to the late Bob MacCoubrey in a speech he delivered at the opening ceremonies in October 2003. That was slightly more than $450 per person in the community.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of dollars have continued to flow to the hospital to assist with the purchase of equipment, including CT scanner, MRI equipment all the way down to simple surgical tools.
Let’s also not forget, all the rest of the money paying for the hospital is coming out of our tax dollars. Any way it is cut, this is our money being spent.
There is no way on earth Biron or hospital board chair John Hudson should be allowed to keep any details regarding these changes silent after this level of community commitment and generosity. The spread of rumours occurred because there is an information vacuum created by the administration and the board. Let us hope the rumours were floated into the community as trial balloons to measure public reaction. That would just be too cynical.
What is even more pathetic is the sorry excuse Biron gives for the secrecy. He complains some people might not understand the Jan. 16 panel reports were only recommendations and not the final decision of the board. However, the disservice done to the public by not making the report results public is a far greater crime.
Biron and the board have left it to the provincially appointed regional health administrators, known as the Central East Local Health Integrated Network (LHIN), for public consultation. Talk about passing the buck. This is irresponsible and goes against the very principles of a community-centred hospital. This is a local problem and should be dealt with at that level long before the LHIN gets its hands on the final budget proposal.
Residents of West Northumberland should be outraged. Municipal politicians should be demanding public disclosure and a full, open, healthy democratic debate to allow input on the various options. Then, armed with the public’s wishes, the board can huddle to make their decisions.
While some may argue the citizen’s panel in the fall was a form of public consultation, they are right. But, without public disclosure and subsequent public debate on those recommendations, it demeans the results and taints the process. The panel should only be considered one phase of a multi-phase series of public consultation. Obviously, that is not the case now.
Members of the community have invested in this hospital at an unprecedented level. It was an expression of pride, co-operation, community ownership and vision for the future. No doubt there are many tough choices ahead, but the approach by the administration and the board are ill conceived and a slap in the face of citizens. If handled improperly, it could be disastrous to any future fundraising and become a permanent black mark on what should be a crown jewel. Mr. MacCoubrey must be spinning in his grave.

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