Grant Lafleche wrote in "We've done nothing illegal, LHIN chairwoman says" (St.Catharines Standard, posted Aug.10, 2010; print edition Aug.11, 2010, as "Health-care agency blasted"):
"The agency that funds hospitals in Niagara says it did nothing wrong, after being raked over the coals Tuesday by the provincial ombudsman.
"We've done nothing illegal," said Juanita Gledhill, chairwoman of the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Local Health Intergration Network. "There are always areas for improvement, but we always acted within our legislated abilities."
Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin disagrees.
In a strongly worded report issued Tuesday, he said the LHIN acted illegally by holding meetings in secret. The LHINs say the meetings were for educational purposes only, but Marin said the agency was out of line.
"Unfortunately, this practice is antithetical to the LHIN model. It serves to undermine the integrity and credibility of the LHIN's decision-making, and in my view is simply illegal," Marin wrote in his report. "Any possible advantage gained by the board in meeting in private is inevitably lost by the risk of inciting public suspicion around unpopular decisions."
Marin's report is the result of an investigation he started 15 months ago, after a series of complaints were registered over hospital restructuring. Most of the complaints concerned health care in Hamilton, but there were 13 complaints about the changes introduced by the Niagara Health System locally.
Marin looked at how the LHIN handled its mandate of "community engagement," specifically the LHIN's public consultation process when changes were made in Hamilton and Niagara.
His report did not comment on the merits of the restructuring plans themselves.
Marin concluded a bylaw the LHIN adopted that would allow it to meet in secret was illegal.
The ombudsman said LHINs are governed by the Local Health System Integration Act, which requires LHIN boards to engage the public about health-care issues.
"So they thought, 'We don't like this,' and created a bylaw so they didn't have to. Why? Well for one thing, people like you won't be a nuisance, " Marin told The Standard Tuesday afternoon.
Gledhill said the LHIN's bylaw was in accordance with the spirit of the act, and defined a board meeting as one in which the board deliberated on an issue or made a decision. Any other meetings were not board meetings by definition, and therefore did not have to be open to the public.
While some of these closed-door meetings were to teach the board how hospital systems work, others were directly connected to the debate over hospital restructuring in Niagara.
Gledhill recalled a meeting where the mayors of Port Colborne and Fort Erie — both angry that the ERs in their cities were being converted to urgent-care centres — met with the LHIN to discuss their concerns.
"This was not a meeting where anything was deliberated or decided upon, so it was not a board meeting as defined by the bylaw," Gledhill said. "I did speak to the media afterwards. It was not secret."
No records of these meetings were kept, and Marin had to reconstruct them through interviews during his investigation.
Although Marin's harshest criticism was for the LHIN, he also said the provincial Ministry of Health and Long Term Care shoulders some responsibility.
Legislation governing the LHINs requires community engagement, he said, but it fails to define what that is or how a LHIN should go about doing it. As a result, the LHIN defined community engagement as including board members talking to members of the public in public places, such as grocery store lineups.
"Despite the strong language in the legislation, the reality of 'community engagement' is that it's in a wishy-washy grey zone – and this particular LHIN took advantage of that to render it almost meaningless," Marin said.
Marin made four recommendations in his report: that the bylaw be scrapped; the ministry and LHIN report to him on their progress in improving community engagement; the LHIN inform the public about how it engages them; and that the ministry must define and set standards for community engagement.
The government has already acted, Marin said. On Monday, the ministry told all LHINs in Ontario to cease using the bylaw.
Gledhill said the LHIN will comply with the recommendations, but she stood by the actions of her board.
Marin said he was less than impressed with the response from the LHIN, which he said was "defensive and recalcitrant — its attitude was essentially, 'We did nothing wrong and we won't change.'" "
Thankfully, the St.Catharines Standard didn't bother/wasn't able to provide readers with their local MPP Liberal Jim Bradley's response to Andre Marin's report.
We wouldn't want to make Secretive Ole Jimmy look bad.
Jimmy probably hasn't had time yet to read it (naturally) - like he didn't have time to read the Kitts HIP report, which precipitated THIS report by the Ombudsman.
What about Liberal half-baked policies such as Smitherman's asinine LHIN or eHealth fiascos, or Gerretsen's eco-tax cock-up... what's any of this got to do with Good Ole Jimmy?! It's got Smitherman's stench all over it!!
What does Jimmy think of the Marin report?
Who the FLICK knows.
The St.Catharines Standard ain't gonna tell us.
Lafleche begins his article telling us the LHIN is "the agency that funds hospitals in Niagara" - hmm... yet, WHERE DOES THE LHIN's 'FUNDING' COME FROM?!
Does the Niagara LHIN have authority to charge fees or raise taxes?!
Who created the LHIN and appointed the staff? To whom do all of Ontario's LHIN's report?
It's as if Jim Bradley's incompetent Liberal single-payer-monopoly-pushing health-care-dictators have nothing at all to do with any of this!!
Where was your authoritarian Liberal health-monopoly's "community engagement", Jim?
The St.Catharines Standard JimmyBoy Asslick Fan Club is afraid to ask.
What we should all be asking is whether Jimmy's Liberal health-care monopolists have done anything illegal.