Hospital addresses transparency questions

MANITOULIN – A recent Manitoulin Health Centre (MHC) board meeting featured a disagreement between a board member, the hospital president and the board chair when a fundraising discussion moved in-camera, according to the governing body’s bylaw, despite the board member’s strong dissent.

Board member Tom Ondrejicka is vice-chair of the fundraising sub-committee. That committee held a meeting via Zoom on January 14 at which they discussed potential fundraising initiatives and changes to the fundraising model in light of this year’s expansion of the Mindemoya hospital site’s emergency department.

The committee submitted its report for the January 28 MHC board meeting, but the fundraising report that appeared in the final public agenda package was missing an item. Mr. Ondrejicka raised a concern that the fundraising report did not reflect the motions passed at that meeting. Absent was a motion that presentations and reports from the fundraising committee be discussed as a board.

Prior to the meeting, MHC determined that the motion in question fit within section 2.1 (3)(b) of its open and closed board meetings policy.

That item states that a discussion can be placed within an in-camera or closed session if it pertains to “other entities or persons where the information being discussed may compromise the relationship of the hospital with them or its relationship with its stakeholders.”

The policy reason for moving the discussion in camera was not listed on the public agenda package, so members of the public did not receive justification for the change. Board members had already received a pair of emails explaining the change.

Mr. Ondrejicka told the board meeting that there had already been discussions in the community pertaining to the discussion items in question, something the hospital executives said they were not aware of.

At the end of the open meeting and before the board moved in-camera, Mr. Ondrejicka spoke up to express his concerns. He dissented on moving into a closed session.

Board chair Terry Olmstead explained that the discussion was about items that were not ready to be made public, but he did not mention the specific board policy that justified the move. 

“We moved it in-camera for a reason, Tom, and the reason is we don’t want anything going out there that’s not necessarily going to happen,” Mr. Olmstead said.

“When I’m told that we’re going there because we don’t want Warren (Schlote, Expositor reporter) to be on the call or that this is confrontational for media or sensitive, I don’t understand,” Mr. Ondrejicka replied, stating that the upcoming hospital expansion will require considerable fundraising for new equipment and that he felt it was in the hospital’s best interest to have as much public conversation as possible.

The hospital is still in the ‘quiet phase’ of the fundraising campaign, before it begins its public appeal.

The Expositor spoke with MHC president and CEO Lynn Foster on the day after the meeting, who clarified the above reason for moving the item into a closed session.

“The only piece that was removed from the report related to the (above) item under the closed session policy, which, we felt if it was out in the open, might compromise community relationships,” Ms. Foster said.

She also noted, as she had during the board meeting, that the edited document was a report from the board and not the official minutes, which would remain intact.

Ms. Foster further explained that all board members had received two emails before the board meeting to explain why MHC moved the item into a closed session. The board policy line item that justified moving into a closed session was not listed on the public agenda, and Ms. Foster agreed that it may be useful to have such information listed in the future.

“It’s never our intent to withhold information and we recognize that the media is welcome to attend our meetings. Most often, unless they fall within the closed session list, they are open,” she said.

Before Ms. Foster’s clarification, this newspaper had contacted a media spokesperson for Ontario Hospitals Association (OHA) on Friday, January 29 for clarification about general province-wide policies that govern closed sessions, transparency and the allowable reasons for going in-camera.

OHA then told MHC that this reporter had contacted them regarding the question that stemmed from the MHC board meeting.

The Expositor contacted the same OHA media spokesperson again on Monday, February 1 to ask about the association’s policies regarding sharing media requests with external parties, especially when they are of a general policy nature and not specifically about one organization’s bylaws.

This reporter received an auto-response from the OHA spokesperson that they were no longer working at the organization. The Expositor has forwarded its request about OHA’s internal transparency policies to the new spokesperson but did not receive a response by press time Monday.