Many years ago, there was a very popular comic strip called ‘Pogo’. Most of you will be too young to remember it, but from it sprang a memorable slogan which I have never forgotten and that is; “We have met the enemy and he is us!”.
I have been thinking a lot about that lately in terms of the various machinations taking place in relation to the provision of health care services in Muskoka; particularly when it comes to acute patient care. I think I know who the enemy is. No, it is not the North Simcoe – Muskoka Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), although they are a convenient whipping board. And it is not the Muskoka and Area Health System Transformation Team (MAHST) who recently released their report for restructuring the delivery of health care in Muskoka. The enemy, as I see it, is Muskoka Algonquin Health Care (MAHC); our own local hospital Board. That is a tough statement I know, but I have come to believe it.
Most people in Huntsville will not know Ross Maund. He is a relatively new member of our community. He has had a distinguished business career which included running the largest private health care system in North America that treated more than a million patients a day. He has been associated with MAHC for the past three and a half years, at first as a committee member and for the last two years as a full member of the Board. He served on the Executive Committee, the Audit Committee and the Nomination Committee. Recently he quit. Ross will not dwell on his reasons for quitting, partly because of Board confidentiality and partly because he is just not that kind of guy, but it is clear that he was frustrated. It is really hard to understand how the Board and the powers that be would let someone with his background get away. Perhaps he just knew too much and that made folks with their own agendas, nervous?
Around the same time, another Board member from Huntsville, David Wilkin, was actually fired. As one former Board Chair said to me, “He was voted off the Island”. Wilkin too, had a significant background in the private sector. He was apparently fired because he was not seen as a “team” player but one source told me it was really because he asked the uncomfortable questions at Board meetings. In my view, every Board needs someone like that.
Consequently, MAHC has lost two Board members, both of them from Huntsville. It is not hard to read between the lines to see what is going on here. I am told by a number of people I have spoken to that there is a definite balance of power on the Board that leans toward the south of the District. Three or four members of the 12-person Board from that area appear to dominate the process and other members seem reluctant to take them on. Apparently, those that do, are isolated or they get the boot!
The MAHC Board is a tightly controlled ship. Its governance document is massive and it is restrictive. It is also somewhat incestuous as the ‘membership” of the hospital organization is the Board and a few past Board members. At the Annual Meeting of the Hospital Corporation, no member of the public has a vote unless they are a Board member or one of a very select few. The result is that is that Directors effectively elect themselves! This process is not unique to MAHC but never the less, it gives the Board tremendous power and the rest of us, very little to say about it.
It is this body that has the momentum when it comes to deciding the future delivery of acute care hospital services in Muskoka. After all, they have recently been given a million dollars from Premier Wynne to do just that. And while they say they will look at all options there is little to indicate that they will do anything other than confirm their previous recommendation for a single-site hospital. As one pundit in the know has said, the language may change for political reasons, but the intent will be the same. A further concern is where a single-site hospital would be located. With the current Board makeup, we have no reason to have confidence that it will be in Huntsville.
Of all the acronyms that have their finger in the future of health care in Muskoka and East Parry Sound, MAHC is the one to watch. They are on a roll. They are not accountable to the communities they serve and the recent purge within their ranks is disturbing. Somewhere in all of this is a wake-up call. I can only hope that we heed it.
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