JBMH wants the money but they don’t seem to want to say how they will spend it. They will want a quick site plan approval.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  May 8, 2012  There was a line from the film Cool Hand Luke, that starred the late Paul Newman, where a prison guard said “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”  At the time Newman was doing everything he could not to communicate.  The ending was a tough one.

One got the feeling that while delivering a very brief update to a Council Budget and Corporate Services committee meeting, General Manager Scott Stewart wanted to use those words but chose to be a little more diplomatic, which for Stewart is a stretch at the best of times.

City General Manager Scott Stewart doesn't take this smile to hospital meetings.

Stewart reported that the city had not been able to arrange a meeting with the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital (JBMH) until sometime in August to discuss the Contribution Agreement that is to be signed between the hospital and the city.  That’s the document that is going to take $60 million of your dollars and slide it across the table to the hospital. The city has just over $4.8 million of the $60 million saved already but we are going to have to borrow much of the rest of it so the hospital can begin the build.

Stewart added that it looked as if the agreement would get worked out between the city and the hospital by email; which has got to be about as archaic as it gets – they are less than a twenty minute walk away from each other.  Saying they are not available until sometime in August is basically the same as saying: ‘we don’t want to talk to you, so go away – but send us the money you have to give us’.

Apparently the real reason for not being able to meet before sometime in August is a combination of  vacation schedules, commitments that can’t be broken – we all go through those problems.  However, if you really want to meet – you make it happen.  Unless of course there is a problem that is insurmountable – and that would be what?  Wait for it.  The lawyers, the lawyers can’t clear time for a meeting until sometime in August.

What are the lawyers doing in the room at all?  Surely senior city people and senior hospital people can put together the basics – all we are doing here is setting out what they will do with the money we send them – then give it to the lawyers and let them make sure that all the niceties are covered, shake hands and then deliver the cheque.

Is the city negotiating with the hospital?  We will know when the Contribution gets to a city council committee.

The city is required to help fund the renovation of the hospital and it has taxed its citizens and used a significant portion of last year’s surplus to come up with our share.  The hospital has to raise an additional $60 million.

Burlington does not have a choice in this matter – the province mandated that we give the money to the hospital.  We apparently don’t give the funds directly to the hospital corporation but to the hospital Foundation which in turn passes it along to the hospital.

The relationship between the city and the hospital corporation is getting a little caustic.  The city needs an agreement that sets out a “responsible and timely release of funds” and given that we are going to have to borrow much of our contribution we would like to be able to plan the flow of funds.  Burlington maintains a very strong, positive relationship with the Performing Arts Centre where more than half a million dollars is sent every year.  They find a way to work through the differences with the Seniors basically because they meet and work through the issues.

With the city being required to come up with $60 million, the hospital, one would hope, would accept the fact that they have a new partner and not a junior partner either, and they have to learn to share the responsibility of working with the community to raise the funds and get the hospital to the point where it is not the mess it was when current president Vandewall was brought in.

JBMH president Eric Vandewall is reported to be working on his schedule and making time to meet with the city. Dinner with senior city staff was a good start.

The egos that are at times all too visible, have to be left at the door so that an adult relationship can take place.

When Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital president Eric Vandewall appeared before a city council committee last year he made the statement that the hospital would match the city contribution “dollar for dollar”, which made a number of Council members feel a little better about turning over tax payers’ dollars to the hospital.  That good feeling has come close to evaporating.

General Manager Stewart and the city manager are to have dinner with the hospital president and some of his leading people, which will undoubtedly include VP Communication Mario Joanette – who might manage an explanation as to just what is wrong with the communications.

There have not been any announcements from the hospital foundation on how they are doing on the raising of their $60 million.  We are told that there is a very big announcement coming and to expect a number of announcements at the Crystal Ball Gala, which takes place later this month.  We are told it is a sold out event with more than 100 people learning they could not get a ticket.  This Gala event – and it is quite the event, being held at the Mercedes Benz dealership on the North Service Road, is where the hospital Foundation may announce what it has collected to date in the way of its fund raising efforts.

The Foundation people are good at what they do – they don’t have any problem communicating.  Things are a little different on the hospital administration side.

While the city does its best to meet with the hospital to work through the agreement on how the JBMH people are going to spend the tax dollars we give them – the city’s Planning Department is able to talk to the hospital people about the actual construction of the building – reported to be a seven storey building on land that currently serves as a parking lot.

Site Plan approval for the structure is anticipated in late May or early June with approval expected in September or early October.  So far the public has very little information on what’s going on.  It seems like a ‘send us your money and don’t ask any questions’

Site plan approval will include traffic impacts, archeological investigation, storm water management and public consultation.  The city will have to deal with all this in a relatively short period of time.

The archeological aspects could turn out to be interesting.  The land the hospital was built on is part of the original land grant to Joseph Brant and there are reported to be some strings attached to just what can and cannot be done with that land.

It's supposed to be all about the hospital and its desperately needed re-build. Can they all not just get on with it?

Councillor Marianne Meed Ward has been a very strong proponent of ensuring that the public is given every opportunity to comment on developments in the city and has been very vocal about the amount of time the public has to read the reports and given the time to form their opinion.  Meed Ward is a member of the hospital board and while there is an evident conflict in sitting on the hospital board and sitting as a Councillor, especially when there is serious and significant tension over the wording of the Contribution Agreement, but that does not seem to bother Meed Ward.  Can she act for her constituents to ensure they are given the information they need and at the same time sit on the hospital board and argue that information should be made available and that the public, who after all are picking up a significant part of the cost of the redevelopment, be given every opportunity to comment?

Elections cost money.  Anyone running for the office of Mayor needs people who can write the cheques to cover the cost of an election campaign.  Meed Ward doesn’t accept campaign funds from developers but she would be comfortable with getting funds from the kind of people who attend social events with impressive ticket prices.


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