As they await the appointment of a provincial supervisor, members of the Sydenham District Hospital Board expressed both vindication and optimism about the future of health care in their communities.
The board met for perhaps the final time last week to accept the findings of a provincial investigator that they said supported their concerns about fiscal and operational mismanagement at the Chatham Kent Health Alliance.
In her report, Bonnie Adamson was critical of CKHA officers and Chatham hospital boards as not acting in good faith regarding Sydenham District Hospital.
She also pointed out numerous cultural, financial and organizational issues and recommended that the province appoint a supervisor with broad powers to operate the CKHA, a move backed by the province.
The provincial ministry of health appointed Adamson in June after the relationship between the Wallaceburg and Chatham boards and staff broke down over the issue of emergency services to North Kent.
In a letter to the boards, Health Minister Eric Hoskins wrote, “In my view, the delivery of hospital services are now in jeopardy and I believe it is in the best interest of the patients and the people who depend on your hospitals to act now before the situation further deteriorates.”
The six SDH board members weighed in on the report.
Kris Lee praised the report, saying Adamson did a very honest and candid job.
“It took courage. I thought the ministry would massage it but it was presented verbatim and shows (Health Minister Eric Hoskins) is serious about mismanagement.”
George Lung said he was pleased to note the various references to Alliance administration and the Public General and St. Joseph’s boards not acing in good faith with their best efforts.
“We were getting the shaft,” he said.
Rex Issac said the report recognized the importance of small rural hospitals, something the Alliance and Chatham boards refused to do. The loss of the small rural hospital designation cost Wallaceburg $1 million in funding and has never been explained by administration.
“I feel confident moving forward (in what we do) and the strength of our communities,” he said.
Conrad Noel, the longest serving board member, said he is concerned about a section in the report which favours a “closed membership” board model.
He said the 539 members who elected the Wallaceburg board and supported it in the community are “a lifesaver.”
Herb John said Adamson’s report echoes “what we’ve been saying for years” regarding administration expense and called concerns about the work culture at the Alliance “very serious”.
Parsons said he agrees with most points in the report and is looking forward to a “fair, fresh and equal” approach instead of the Chatham boards that he called “obstructionist from the get-go”.
He said the SDH board had done its level best to bring financial and operational issues to light and called attacks on board members, the public and media for raising those issues “unfair and unfounded”.
“We were dismissed at every turn,” he said. “We were put down by staff for not trusting them and we were ignored when we raised issues about the growing deficit. We conducted ourselves in the best interests of health care and the community and we need to apologize to no one.”
Parsons said he believes the power of the open structure of the SDH board is important, saying the closed model favoured by Chatham “is exactly the reason that got us into trouble”.
St. Clair Twp. Councillor Darrell Randell praised the board for a staying focused on health care and called its efforts “a job well done”.
Chatham-Kent councillor Jeff Wesley, a former long-time board member said, “I knew we were doing the right thing then and now. You all deserve thanks.”
Wesley said with 17,000 emergency room visits, SDH has higher volume than 29 other rural hospitals, something the alliance staff refused to acknowledge, preferring to attack the emergency department staff that he said provides “exceptional care.”