Another meeting planned to patch up wounded hospital

Mayor floats municipal reps on hospital board as way forward

By Kristen Shane


A year ago this week, Kincardine council invited hospital stakeholders to sit down in one room and start a conversation about improving local health care.


Now, in light of this month’s confirmation from the province that it does not support de-amalgamation of the Kincardine hospital, Kincardine council is once again looking to pen the ponies together for an update on how to improve health care delivery.


Councillors agreed last Wednesday to organize another meeting. They talked about inviting one or more representatives from Huron-Kinloss as well as the Friends of the Kincardine Hospital. That would be a considerably smaller gathering than last year, which included representatives of seven groups including the South Bruce Grey Health Centre (SBGHC) board, Kincardine hospital foundation, doctors, the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) and Huron-Bruce MPP Carol Mitchell.


Councillor Ken Craig suggested inviting members of the SBGHC board to the meeting as well.


“I suspect the Friends have a bias. I wouldn’t mind hearing from the other end of the teeter-totter to balance this,” he said.


No date was set for a meeting. Huron-Kinloss Township council had not yet been told about it. But Mayor Mitch Twolan said the next day that many township residents use the Kincardine hospital and so he’s interested in any conversation about it.


“We’re always open for dialogue,” he said.


Friends members also signalled their willingness to talk. They later voted unanimously in favour of another meeting, according to chair Gregg McClelland.


“It’s a very positive step in the right direction,” he said.


Despite the province’s pronouncements against de-amalgamation, some Friends members “don’t want to look at a Plan B,” said McClelland.


Several councillors used last week’s meeting to also proclaim their support for the Friends’ plan to split from the four-hospital alliance.


“My idea is not to separate if you can’t show me that it is a truly viable situation,” said councillor Marsha Leggett. “But I don’t want (you) to give up because if you quit now you’re giving in. I’m behind you all the way.”


She received a round of applause from about a dozen Friends in the audience, as did councillor Ron Hewitt after pledging his support for the group.


Deputy mayor Laura Haight, though, cautioned that pushing the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care for de-amalgamation could backfire because the Ministry might be less willing to fund the redevelopment of the Kincardine hospital when it considers next winter which projects to prioritize over the next five years.


It was Haight’s suggestion to have the next health care meeting to discuss solutions to commonly-named problems, such as board decision-making, transparency and communication.


“It appears to have become very focused, very early on de-amalgamation,” she said. She suggested there could be other ways to fix the hospital’s problems.


Mayor Larry Kraemer floated one idea: the hospital board could add one or more municipal council members from each of the municipalities that host a SBGHC site.


He said he had suggested it at a meeting earlier this month with Mitchell, representatives of the LHIN and the hospital board.


“I see it as a method of ensuring that closed session rules are respected, because councils do that all the time,” he said. Council members already sit on similar boards such as conservation authorities and health units, and in some municipalities they also sit on hospital boards, he said.


A municipal representative could report back to council about board meetings, which would make for better public communication, said Kraemer.


He acknowledged there are some drawbacks. For instance, it might be “awkward” for a councillor to wear both hats because at the hospital board table their first priority would be to the board and not their municipality. He said others have also noted that the Ontario Hospital Association encourages boards to be a based on professional rather than political skills.


Kraemer said he briefly talked to the mayors of the three other municipalities hosting SBGHC sites. “They are willing to have the conversation with their councils to see if they’re interested in having municipal representation.”


Kraemer said he reserved a spot at the hospital board’s monthly meeting tonight (Oct. 28) for it to possibly discuss the idea, and asked council to decide whether it supported the idea so he could confirm the spot.


Councillors seemed lukewarm to the proposal.


“It’s not a bad idea,” said councillor Ken Craig. “I’m a little confused about how municipal representation at this time at a hospital board meeting would affect change in the governance model.”


He said he couldn’t give Kraemer an answer before discussing it with the other affected municipal councils.


“I’m not sure that municipal representation on the board is going to improve the situation, but let’s look at the options and let’s have the discussion,” said Haight, signalling that a meeting of local stakeholders must happen first.


For his part, McClelland said he thought municipal representation on the hospital board made sense. But it would also make sense to scrap the current board and CEO, he said.