COLUMN: CKHA CEO earns respect


Lori Marshall, I will miss you.

It seems strange to hear a journalist say they will miss a civil servant, but that will be the case with the retiring president and CEO of the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance.

Even stranger for the head of what was once a rather secretive organization.

Yet Marshall, who retires this summer, always operated in the light while running the alliance, unlike her predecessors.

Granted, it took the CKHA and its former boards falling into such a state of dysfunction that a provincial supervisor had to be appointed here. But that supervisor, Rob Devitt, is the one who hired Marshall.

And I’d call that move a homerun.

Years ago, while I worked at another news outlet, we investigated expense usage by top civil servants at various agencies and operations in Chatham-Kent. We obtained spending from municipal and school boards leaders, for example. But when we asked for the info from the CKHA, the reply was a curt “no.”

Why? Because they didn’t have to.

At the time, hospital officials could hide behind privacy laws; laws designed to protect patient confidentiality, not spending habits of hospital officials. There was nothing that actually prevented CKHA officials from divulging the requested information, but because they were not obligated, they essentially told us to take a hike.

Thankfully Freedom of Information guidelines changed in the years since. And just as thankfully, Devitt selected Marshall to run the CKHA.

As Devitt preached openness and transparency during his time as supervisor; Marshall practiced it.

Suddenly, the media was collectively invited to regular update meetings with Marshall, the chair of the hospital board, and top hospital officials. They aired pretty much everything. As the alliance and its board were rebuilt leadership-wise, we had a seat up front to watch it unfold.

Not all news was good, to be sure. In the beginning, staff morale was in the proverbial toilet. Funds were hard to come by, given how broken the previous spending model was.

Members of the media asked questions and they were openly answered. Journalists cast glances at one another, wondering when the information-sharing balloon was going to burst.

It never did.

Through the pandemic, the information continued to flow, albeit through conference calls or online meetings.

From a personal level, I have always been one to share my hospital and health-care experiences with readers. I have regularly received feedback from the public on how my columns have helped them make decisions to have procedures done, or understand what they faced.

I have two replacement hips. The first came in 2015, the latter about a year ago. The first one went smoothly and the second dealt complications. I shared it all.

Last March, while recovering after my surgery, Marshall took the time to visit me in my hospital room. I can guarantee there was no sign of then-CEO Colin Patey in my room back in 2015. Let’s just say we never really saw eye to eye.

But Marshall visited, stopping in over her lunch to see how I was doing. Such efforts earn respect. She certainly didn’t have to do that.

And Janice Wilmott, director of surgery, did not have to check on me prior to my surgery last year either. But she did.

That’s the culture that has been curated under Marshall.

They care.

That compassion, for people is why I will miss Marshall the most.

Whoever replaces her has big – and transparent – shoes to fill indeed.


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