Smitherman defends deal for hospital
Dismisses bids to link patient care troubles to funding model
As the Ontario Health Coalition was poised to release a report today about what it calls a “cover-up” surrounding the public-private partnership that built Brampton Civic Hospital, Health Minister George Smitherman dismissed the group as “more irrelevant by the day.” “George Smitherman will not be spending too much time worrying about what the Ontario Health Coalition has got to say because they’ve demonstrated very little relevance,” Smitherman told the Star in a wide-ranging interview. “They have a lot of rhetoric. . . . At a certain point of time people have to start to question their motives.” In its report to be released at Queen’s Park, the activist group contends that the so-called P3 deal to build Brampton Civic has proved costly to taxpayers, delivering a smaller facility than promised, late and over budget. “At every stage, as deadlines were missed, as costs ballooned, as the capacity of the hospital was reduced, elected officials responded to public questioning with a string of broken promises, denials and obfuscation,” says the report. Adds the coalition’s Natalie Mehra: “It’s the oldest trick in the book to attack the messenger and sidetrack the message. I would hope the government would stop running this as a public relations game and put their P3 policy under serious review.”
Smitherman denied any links between the P3 model and legitimate community concerns about long wait times in the emergency unit, staff shortages and poor communication at the new hospital.
He said public sector unions and the coalition “want to use the misfortune around patient care incidents to muddle the issue around the nature of the building.
“Because a building has a mortgage, it makes people sick? The Ontario Health Coalition has a mindset . . . that’s mostly about fighting a battle that’s long, long, long since been decided,” he said.
Last week, Smitherman named Ken White as hospital supervisor, charged with looking into problems at Brampton Civic in an effort to restore public confidence.
The deaths of Harnek Sidhu, 52, of pancreatitis and Amarjit Narwal, 42, of a stroke, sparked a huge community protest in December, fuelled by the coalition and Punjabilanguage media. Amar Kaur, 72, recently complained that doctors cut open her right leg by mistake when she required surgery on her fractured left leg.
Appointing a supervisor was unusual because Brampton Civic had barely opened. It was inaugurated with great fanfare on Oct. 28, replacing the aging and now closed Peel Memorial Hospital.
“This is a new building, but the core of the organization has been around for quite a long time. ... Let’s not pretend that the old Peel Memorial was a hospital that was operating perfectly and was unblemished in the community’s eyes. We’ve had some challenges there for a good number of years,” Smitherman said.
While Peel Memorial scored the lowest weighted mortality rate of all hospitals in the province based on a recent report, Smitherman said that was largely attributable to the calibre of its front line staff. But he suggested the quality of leadership at the CEO and board level needs improvement.
Reporting directly to Smitherman, White has powers to override both board chair Duncan Glaholt and CEO Robert Richards. Glaholt denied local rumours that the board had resigned in light of the move or that Richards was fired.
“Our instinct is consensual, but that shouldn’t be misunderstood for status quo. It’s certainly not a quick fix,” said Smitherman, adding that White’s job could take nine months or longer.
As for negative, sometimes erroneous, media reports inflaming the controversy, Smitherman said, “no hospital where the staff is feeling under siege is going to produce the results that we need. The perception from staff is they’re a little bit set upon by the community, and the perception from the community (is that) the staff are not necessarily meeting all of their needs.”
The fate of the mothballed Peel Memorial is also at issue. Many people in fast-growing Brampton feel the city needs two hospitals. The Local Health Integration Network will hold the first of two public meetings Wednesday night to solicit community input on what services to provide at a refurbished Peel Memorial.
The question has been asked repeatedly: Will the old facility reopen in 2009? “I have been consistent on this point since 2005,” he said. “Because of the deviousness around some of these community players, they will not accept yes for an answer.” While Brampton Civic “was built with all of the growth that has occurred (in the region) in mind and then some, we agree fundamentally that Brampton’s future health care needs will definitely require substantial services being provided at the Peel Memorial site.” However, he said, “Job one is enhancements to the quality and quantity of clinical services” at Brampton Civic. “Spreading resources across two sites is a very, very bad idea right now.” The local community still owes $110 million — nearly half of its share of the cost of building the $790 million hospital — and Smitherman is not letting it off the hook. “Never before in Ontario have we embarked on such a big initiative, where community fundraising efforts have been relatively more modest than the scale of the community’s ambitions.”