A commitment to honesty at Elgin St. Thomas Public Health

Deep-rooted concerns about her ability to adhere to privacy guidelines have proven a challenge to Elgin St. Thomas Public Health CEO Cynthia St. John in dealing with City Scope on matters of property, personnel and labour relations.
Her steadfast gatekeeper approach to preserving confidentiality is in contrast to other healthcare institutions, such as Elgin-St. Thomas General Hospital, which have been decidedly more forthcoming with the media when dealing with staff cutbacks and restructuring.
In an effort to open up the channels of communication, St. John and newly-hired PR guru John Matsui
agreed to sit down with City Scope earlier this week.
“I’m certainly committed to be as open and honest as I can be,” said St. John, to kick off the dialogue.

“Part of the challenge is matters of property, personnel and labour relations are closed-session board items and so it becomes a challenge in how you talk about them. Hopefully today we are able to have a conversation and share as much information as we can with each other. If there is something I’m not saying, it’s because of that. It’s nothing to do with anything else.”

Cynthia St. John

First up was the matter of staffing changes so far this year at the Edward Street home of ESTPH.
“I can certainly commit to saying there were staffing changes,” she confirmed. “Whether they were resignations, etc., I wouldn’t get in to.
“There were staffing changes made in March. And then there were changes made in April, solely budget related. The changes made in March were not.
“We had budget reductions, 3.45 full-time employees. Most of that we achieved by attrition and job sharing. We had dollars set aside to bring in additional help in certain areas if we needed it and we got rid of that pool.
“The rest of the changes in terms of reduction in people’s hours have been phased in over the last couple of months.”
That offering adds little to what already has been documented in this corner.
To the current issue of the lease arrangement with Elgin county for their office space, St. John indicated the board of directors are looking at all avenues.
“The matter of the lease is considered property and it is discussed in close session,” she advised. “But I can tell you this, it is this board’s opinion it should look at all options.
“Currently the board has decided it needs more information in order to be able to make a long-term decision for public health. So that is what this assessment (the request for a physical needs assessment) is supposed to provide. I don’t think any good organization that is looking after taxpayer money in the most transparent way should take its first proposal and run.
“I think the board felt strongly about that. Truthfully this board is very committed to fiscal responsibility when it comes to where we are located.”
To explain her increase in salary from $123,627 in 2008 to $150,075 last year, St. John stressed several factors came in to play.
Managers are able to claim up to 70 hours of overtime and St. John noted she worked far beyond that number dealing with the H1N1 pandemic.
“When the board considered the policy a number of years ago, it looked at what health units did typically. Some health units don’t have a cap, and some do. We put in a cap of 70 hours. This doesn’t come near what a lot of managers, including myself, put in.”
She stressed last year included an extra pay period and St. John continued, “There was vacation time in there and I absolutely commit to you, Ian, the non-union staff, including the directors and myself, did not receive any general wage increase that was higher than anybody else.”
Do the math, and all of those factors still don’t appear to jive with a more than $25,000 increase in salary.
Finally, having heard rumblings of a significant number of employee grievances filed in the past year, we asked her about office morale.
“I don’t know what is typical in other health units, but I don’t feel our grievances have quadrupled in the last while, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say budget reductions are hard. I don’t know if there is a specific grievance unresolved at this time.
“It’s a challenging budget and I don’t know what next year is going to look like. But, I can say, the board does everything it can possible before it cuts programs and services.”
“Let me get this straight . . . our city council is a disgrace, because they are enforcing the law?”
In a letter to the Times-Journal this week, Monica Summers of St. Thomas writes city council has been very patient and accommodating when dealing with organizers of the community garden on Isabel Street.
City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be e-mailed to: mccallum@stthomastimesjournal.com.

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