Health author­ity’s spin misses mark by miles

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL - Jim Vib­ert Jim Vib­ert is a former ed­i­tor at the Hal­i­fax Chron­i­cle Her­ald; and worked in com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the N.S. gov­ern­ment

Don’t try to spin it un­less you know how. Good ad­vice for golfers, and even bet­ter ad­vice for pub­lic or­ga­ni­za­tions. When it comes to health out­fits, the rule ought to be forego the spin al­to­gether.

The Nova Sco­tia Health Author­ity, des­per­ate for a “win,” last week over­stated suc­cess in re­cruit­ing doc­tors to Cape Breton and got called on it by those who know best — doc­tors in Cape Breton. The author­ity’s “spin” led to a blown op­por­tu­nity to show progress and gen­er­ate some good will. It squan­dered rare and pre­cious as­sets — trust and cred­i­bil­ity.

At its 2015 in­cep­tion, near the top of the NSHA to-do list th­ese words should have ap­peared: “Earn the trust of Nova Sco­tians and es­tab­lish the cred­i­bil­ity of the new author­ity.”

To­day, the goal needs a re­write: “Tell the whole, un­var­nished truth to re­pair bro­ken trust with Nova Sco­tians and build some cred­i­bil­ity.”

Re­spon­si­bil­ity rests with NSHA lead­er­ship. That needs to be said be­cause, at the next board or se­nior man­age­ment meet­ing, some self-styled or­ga­ni­za­tional ge­nius is li­able to point an ac­cus­ing fin­ger at the NSHA com­mu­ni­ca­tions shop and ut­ter the old dodge, “It’s a com­mu­ni­ca­tions prob­lem.”

It is that and more. It’s a cor­po­rate lead­er­ship prob­lem.

Some­times com­mu­ni­ca­tions prac­ti­tion­ers blow it. But at the NSHA other symp­toms are present that sug­gest the shots are be­ing called from above. The or­der is to shine a right­eous light on the author­ity and its po­lit­i­cal masters. If the facts need a mas­sage, or an in­con­ve­nient re­al­ity is ig­nored, so be it.

What the author­ity might think of as “spin” has be­come a self-de­struct se­quence.

Let’s re­sist the temp­ta­tion to call the house clean­ers and in­stead fo­cus on the essence of trust and cred­i­bil­ity. For the ben­e­fit of the NSHA hi­er­ar­chy, that would be “the” truth, as op­posed to “your” truth.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween the two is sim­ple. NSHA’s truth is a sin­gle, nar­row per­spec­tive. Its own. (see: Trump, Don­ald J.) Whereas “the truth” con­sid­ers other valid per­spec­tives and pro­vides an au­then­tic, bal­anced set of facts, all of which was miss­ing from last week’s an­nounce­ment about new doc­tors for Cape Breton.

As the ad­min­is­tra­tors of health de­liv­ery — out­side the IWK — NSHA lead­ers needs to get their heads around the truth, the whole truth, which reaches be­yond the con­fines of what they hear in their of­fices and board­rooms.

You may re­call the gi­ant “Mis­sion Ac­com­plished” ban­ner hang­ing high above the deck of the USS Abra­ham Lin­coln in May 2003. The ban­ner, more than the words of then-pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, promised an end to U.S. com­bat in Iran. It was pre­ma­ture and, for many Amer­i­cans and more Iraqis, dead wrong.

Back to the NSHA. The em­broi­dered physi­cian re­cruit­ment claim didn’t come with a “Mis­sion Ac­com­plished” ban­ner, but the mes­sage — “we’ve got this cov­ered” — was loud and clear. Cape Breton’s med­i­cal com­mu­nity re­sponded with, “No, you don’t. We’re not sure you even un­der­stand the prob­lem.”

The an­nounce­ment was an ex­am­ple of po­lit­i­cal ob­jec­tives driv­ing NSHA com­mu­ni­ca­tions. The author­ity also has a dis­qui­et­ing habit of se­crecy and ob­fus­ca­tion in mat­ters of pub­lic in­ter­est. Like many pub­lic en­ti­ties it in­cor­rectly, even ar­ro­gantly, be­lieves it is be­stowed with the power to de­cide what con­sti­tutes the pub­lic right to know.

Over­reach and eva­sion in com­mu­ni­ca­tions are not un­com­mon. They are en­demic to pol­i­tics, but in­ex­cus­able and dan­ger­ous from an or­ga­ni­za­tion re­spon­si­ble for the de­liv­ery of med­i­cal care.

When the NSHA raises ex­pec­ta­tions be­yond its ca­pac­ity to de­liver, pa­tients can be im­per­iled. Folks need to know what med­i­cal ser­vices are avail­able to them and where. No­tice of emer­gency room clo­sures, which cram the NSHA news re­lease pages, aren’t the whole story.

When it over­states med­i­cal ca­pac­ity, the author­ity down­loads its job to doc­tors, who are forced to ex­plain to pa­tients that the NSHA an­nounce­ment in the news­pa­pers was not quite right, i.e.: “That pro­ce­dure isn’t done here. You need to go to Hal­i­fax.”

The NSHA is not a po­lit­i­cal ex­ten­sion of the gov­ern­ment. It should stop act­ing like one.

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