A case of the health minister calling the kettle black


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Now that the St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital Foundation has made its financial pitch to St. Thomas and Elgin county, both councils – via membership on the municipal joint committee – have compiled a list of questions designed to shake loose answers from the less-than-accommodating hospital administration.
And, the joint committee has invited – no, make that requested – Paul Bode, chairman of the STEGH board of governors, and Susan O’Brien, foundation president and chairman, attend their next meeting on Wednesday.

STEGH redevelopment sketch

STEGH redevelopment sketch


In a letter to Bode and O’Brien, dated Nov. 22, the joint committee acknowledges the hospital is a valuable community resource.
However, “we are confident that you are aware of our own municipal budgetary challenges and the fact that we must be fully accountable for taxation expenditures to those we serve,” the communication advises.
As such, the committee would like answers and information that includes:
■ Specific project costs for the redevelopment costs.
■ Is there a written, binding commitment from the province to finance the re-scoped project?
■ The province is requiring 100% of the equipment for the mental health component, representing $2.5 million, be funded locally. Why has the onus for this component of the project shifted from the province to the local jurisdiction, and where in policy or regulation is this new requirement contained?
■ The total cost of the re-scoped project is $70 million (City Scope still believes it is less than $50 million) – a reduction of about 25%, so why is the amount to be raised by the city and council still pegged at $9 million? The committee would like specific rationale why the municipal contribution is not adjusted relevant to the reduction of the overall costs.
■ And, what about infrastructure costs (roads, sewers, watermains etc.) associated with redevelopment of the hospital? Has any allowance been made for these costs?
All good questions, the answers to some of these we have previously championed in this corner.
It all comes down to transparency and jettisoning the attitude the city and county should endorse the cheques and then just go away.

DUELING DIPLOMATICOS
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek has valid concerns about how much the community must contribute to the hospital redevelopment fund and is seeking a meeting with the health ministry to sort things out.
Health Minister Deb Matthews fires back it’s time Yurek got on board with the project, and for good measure adds, “I know his party would not be building it.”
Whoa there Deb, let’s hit the pause button.
Who camped out on the front steps of the hospital just weeks in advance of the 2011 provincial vote and promised the Cadillac version of redevelopment for the facility.
And then insisted this announcement was politically transparent, in spite of the timing.
However, when Liberal candidate Lori Baldwin-Sands couldn’t keep up her end of the bargain and failed to deliver the riding, somehow the project becomes the subject of a re-scoping process.
The result – we get a stripped-down compact model and the community is saddled with the Cadillac sticker price.
So, who really needs to wholeheartedly get behind the project? More so in light of the questions listed and information sought in the opening item of this week’s column.
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
Sheesh.

DWINDLING DIVIDEND
Up near the front of Monday’s city council agenda is treasurer Bill Day’s budget monitoring report up to Sept. 30 of this year. Day is predicting a budget surplus of $300,000, which is not bad, but a far cry from the $1 million-plus years.
Of interest, however, is the notation from Day the 2012 dividend from Ascent Group Inc. (formerly St. Thomas Energy Inc.) has been cut in half to $250,000.
What’s the deal here?
For an operation touted in the past by former CEO Brian Hollywood and former board chairman Ald. Tom Johnston as having such a rosy future, this is rather disturbing news for the real shareholders – city ratepayers.
Sheds a little more light, perhaps, on why neither of the above individuals remains in place.
With a seemingly bleak financial picture this year at Ascent, it casts further doubt on the rationale behind greasing Ald. Johnston’s palm with Red Wings’ season tickets.
In addition to the small matter such compensation is in violation of a city bylaw.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“It’s time for Jeff Yurek to get behind the project. I know that his party would not be building it. They have been very clear that this is not the time to be investing in capital projects, but we are.”
In their on-going war of words, health minister Deb Matthews says its time for Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek to get behind the St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital redevelopment project instead of peppering her with questions.

City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to ian.mccallum@sunmedia.ca.

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