Hospital board recognizes 17 years of leadership and brings in a new chair with great neckties. Good omen?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  June 14, 2012  The Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital held their Annual General Meeting and instead of being a real yawner – turned out to be a bit of a fun event with the newly elected chair, Stephen Friday showing not only a tie with vivid colours, something not normally seen in the medical community but also displaying a rich sense of humour.  Thus guy might be fun to work with.

Incoming JBMH chair Stephen Friday - with ties like that, you just have to like this guy.

A relaxed for chair, Susan Busby on the right talks to Board member Brenda Hunter.

Susan Busby, a woman who has served the community for more than 17 years at JBMH, turned the gavel over to Friday but not before the hospital treasurer told the audience that there was a surplus of $22,000 for the fiscal year that ended March 31st.

Financially the hospital is one firm footing.  The Foundation has $12 million of their $60 million in hand; they raised $295,000 at the Crystal Ball.  The Hospital Auxiliary committed to raising $5 million which is a record for this city and probably for any other city near the size of Burlington.

The audience did everything but give President and CEO Eric Vandewall a group hug – can you see him handling that – and went on to hear what Mayor Rick Goldring had to say as their guest speaker.

Before the Mayor got going someone leaned toward me and said “Busby would make a very good Council member”.  Wonder which ward she lives in?

The city and the Hospital are almost at the “sign the agreement” stage on how the $60 million the taxpayers are going to contribute to the re-development will be spent.  Mayor Goldring in his comments pointed out just how big an expenditure that amount is for the city.  “It represents about 50% of the annual tax levy. We will have to borrow to meet the commitment. Our current total debt for the city is approximately $90 million and this will have to be increased.”  So for Burlington – this is not small potatoes.

There was a very nice letter from the provincial Minister of Health and Long Term Care, Deb Matthews to outgoing Chair Susan Busby that was framed and presented to her.

While the dollars are important Goldring was in the room to talk about a “healthy community” and didn’t limit his definition to health to how big are stomachs were or how we felt but saw healthy community as one where everyone was pulling together in the same direction.

The past year has been awkward for the city.  Council didn’t like the idea of being asked to pay for a parking garage and also didn’t feel it was in any sense a partner with the hospital board.  There was tension which Goldring doesn’t feel is part of a healthy community.

He pointed out that Burlington” residents identified the hospital as their  number 1 priority by almost 70%. Residents are clearly willing to contribute, and if need be, see spending controlled in other areas of the municipality.”

Council however is responsible to its taxpayers and they are going to be diligent and ensure that funds are spent wisely.  In other words the city wasn’t going to just write a cheque and leave it at that.

“The hospital and city staff, have been working towards a contribution agreement for about six months now and I believe we have found a way to make this work for all parties.”

“The agreement that we are working to finalize, will see the city contributing $60 million for equipment purchases for the hospital. This gives the residents transparency as to how their tax dollars are being spent.”

“The i’s are being dotted and t’s crossed and we are hopeful that the final contribution agreement will be brought to Committee the week of July 9th with approval anticipated at Council on July 16.”

Burlington MPP Jane McKenna yukking it up with the girls at the JBMH annual general meeting.

While the McMaster University decision to designate Joseph Brant as a teaching facility came as a bit of a surprise to the city Goldring pointed out that the McMaster Halton Family Medicine Centre will add significantly to the level of service at the hospital and provide additional accessibility to care for our community.

Goldring pointed out that the city is consistently ranked as one of the best places to live in Canada and he wants the  hospital to reflect that.

Goldring went on to define his idea of a healthy community as being about more than the healthcare system. Using  Canadian Senate Sub-committee on Population Health data he said about 25% of health outcomes can be contributed to our healthcare system.

The other major contributors are education and income, which together are estimated to account for 50% of health outcomes, and the physical environment which accounts for 10% of outcomes. Biology and genetics are thought to contribute the balance.  Municipal government plays  a significant role in the overall health of a community.

There was a time when municipalities owned and ran their hospitals; then the provincial government took over that responsibility and we appear to be going back a bit and looking to the municipality to be a bigger player, which the Mayor appears to welcome.  And to be a player the city needs to be at the table.

Average household income in Burlington is $115,000 per year, which is 25% above the provincial average.  40% of Burlington households have an income over $100,000 .

However, poverty is  a challenge. Although not fully evident to everyone in Burlington, we have almost 10% of the population living at or below the poverty line. We have over 3500 families living in poverty in our community.  Our food banks have become a growth business in Burlington. Over the last two years demand at the food banks has grown by 20% per year.

The City provides affordable opportunities for all. Seniors centers’, libraries, public transit, recreation and cultural events all help to level the playing field and provide an improved and affordable quality of life leading to positive health outcomes.    Municipal Government operates long-term care facilities and supports or provides certain mental health services. We work with the LHIN to fund and coordinate some of these activities, but perhaps not to the level that we each could.  These all dramatically impact the health of our community.

With the City and Region involved in so many of the important areas that impact the overall health outcomes of the community, how should we be working better together?

And that was the critical question – because the hospital and the city have not been able to work together all that well.  When it takes six months to work out how the city’s $60 million contribution is going to be spent – you know there are problems.

Goldring wants the hospital to think aloud with him asking

1. How do we define a healthy Community? What would it look like?

2. How would we measure it? What critical measurements would we focus on?

3. What objectives would we set? How would we establish objectives that were meaningful?

4. How would we prioritize and fund these objectives within our individual areas of responsibility? Would we be willing to give up anything within our silo for the greater good?

5. Could we work together, share information and be more effective and efficient?

6. Understanding all the bureaucratic roadblocks that exist, would we be willing to pilot solutions that make Burlington a Healthier Community?

The city and the hospital haven’t been able to do this so far.

The hospital is now working flat out to get shovels in the ground by the end of the year and will take a site development plan to city council in the fall. The overall layout for the site is shown above.

The near completion of the Redevelopment Memorandum of Understanding is a significant milestone”, said Goldring.  “All of us need to be united 100% behind the work of the foundation and the campaign cabinet and be advocates and contributors in order for us to reach our local share target.

“Let us look at the redevelopment process as the beginning of a much bigger conversation within which we can leverage the positive goodwill in the community and the great work the city and region do so that Burlington will be not only the best city to live in Canada but the Healthiest City.

“That is the question I want to leave with all of us.”

Did they hear the question?  Will they head the question? Time only will tell.  There is a new chair that Goldring knows well and has worked with in the past.  Stephen Friday certainly sounded as if he was open to a new working relationship.  Hopefully he can bring about a better working relationship.

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