Listen Up! We have met the enemy and it is our own Hospital board

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Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

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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12 Comments

  1. Hugh, You are 100 per cent correct, with the present leaders of MAHC , and some being part of One Muskoka, you can see the direction the Board is headed. I was thinking of applying however I knew I would not get appointed with Ms Brown at the head. The Board is NOT elected by the people, however our Councils are and our elected should be the ones representing the will of the Taxpayers and the future of Health Care in Huntsville, and the future of Huntsville and area as a whole

  2. I am with you Hugh. I will devote my time in making sure the Muskoka Hospital Board gets it right. Muskoka and East Parry Sound will not suffer because of ignorance!
    Cathy Still
    Reeve
    Village of Burk’s Falls

  3. Robert Attfield on

    Based on what I’ve heard and learned about the MAHC Board, (some of it from a “fired” member), everything that Hugh writes is essentially correct. It is time to change the nominating/election procedures of health care boards to provide more public input and guarantee fair representation within the communities serviced by the health boards

  4. Terry Russell on

    As usual, Mr. Mackenzie’s assessment of MAHC is absolutely correct. The systematic emasculation & eventually closure of Huntsville Hospital is inevitable. The root cause is that the Ontario Health system is dominated by the interests of what has become a massive self-serving, engorged & self-sealing bureaucracy of unfathomable complexity. No solution to declining services is possible without ruthlessly reducing this overburden.
    Mrs. Wynne’s cynical $1 m. grant should be deployed to revealing “Exactly where does all the money go?” as first step to redirecting funds to front-line services, &c. Mr. Ross Maund sounds like just the man,.. assisted by the Provincial Auditor’s revelations, &c. With transparent & fair funding formulae Vs. outrageous administrative salaries, perq.s. & bonuses, &c., &c

  5. If I am correct, making the “membership” of the hospital organization, the board itself, occurred at the time of amalgamation of the two hospitals into one “health care campus”. This ensured that there would be an amalgamation. In my opinion, this is not the way democracy was intended to work. In my mind, it invalidates the amalgamation which gives us grounds for challenging and reversing that process. I think that the only way to roll back the juggernaut that is pushing for a single, Bracebridge located, acute-care hospital site is to dissolve the amalgamation and possibly seek to be part of the northern LHIN, hence moving the boundary line to the south of Huntsville. We could then seek a new hospital in Huntsville as the closest intermediate sized hospital in our northern LHIN is an hour and a half away. Something to think about.

  6. Totally agree with Hugh Mackenzie. A non-elected board has the duty to listen to those who are on the “front lines” when a major decision-making process is to take place, and this has never seemed to be the case with our current board debating the future of health care in Muskoka. All doctors, nurses, technicians, and all members of the current hospital staff have worthy suggestions which seem to be ignored, while we are forced to rely on the “expertise” (?) of the current board members, some of whom were in top positions in other fields, NOT related to Health care.
    I do not know Ross Maund, but his past qualifications sound like they definitely would be needed in this situation rather than the opinion of the former head of a school board! Members of ANY board need to be past related to their current positions. I support the election of these board members rather than the internal acceptance of today. You should be representing us, not making your personal agendas shoved down our throats.

  7. It is clear that the board does not represent the people who use the current hospitals. The way members are chosen to sit on the board is a Joke.
    Dissolve it and get a process that generates a board that represents the people who use the hospitals.

  8. For people at places like the end of Limberlost Road, the wait for an ambulance and a trip to a single hospital in Bracebridge would be a death sentence if a heart attach were to happen. Muskoka has too large an area to have only one hospital, without even thinking about the park area.

  9. Hugh, your understanding of boards, as illustrated in this article, seems to be slim to none:

    1) nobody can be ‘fired’ from a board. The only vehicle for removal is if the establishing bylaw states that a consecutive number of missed meetings (without cause) will result in removal. In that case, the bylaw removes the member: the board does not ‘fire’ him/her;

    2) all boards have a nominating committee, which identifies and interviews appropriate candidates for board membership. These names are brought to the board and voted upon: there is nothing underhanded in that process; and

    3) the board’s only employee is the CEO, but THEIR EMPLOYER is the community; to which they answer.

    All of the above points were abused in the denigration of the MAHC Board. I have no opinion on your final conclusion. You may well be totally correct, but your case was unfairly presented.

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