It was with interest we saw Dr. Eric Fonberg’s name appear in the Toronto Star over the weekend. Fonberg, along with 10 other colleagues from York Central Hospital, had decided the best place to have a meeting about hospital “accountability” would be Boca Raton, Florida. We can hear the snickers from here.
Fonberg is better known to us as the former Chair of Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health. Fonberg served in that role while the hospital was undergoing a number of cost-saving service changes last year, including layoff of 28 child and youth workers employed in a unique and intensive program for hard-to-serve youth.
While the layoffs were originally described as “evidence-based,” the evidence didn’t hold up to scrutiny when a former employee of the Centre decided to dig a little deeper. In the end it wasn’t so much an evidence-based decision as a “me-too” decision, following the lead of other hospitals which equally lacked solid evidence in which to make their decision.
When OPSEU and others wrote to Dr. Fonberg about the decision early last year, we were invited to an Ontario Shores board meeting to witness discussion of our letter. During the board meeting Fonberg simply made a motion to refer the letter back to the CEO to write a reply and washed his hands of the issue. End of story. There was no debate. No motion to reconsider. There wasn’t even “pretend” concern by the board knowing that someone from the union was in the room. Attending the board meeting wasn’t worth the price of hospital parking to witness.
Now York Central hospital chief Fonberg and his colleagues are paying back the cost of their trip to Florida following exposure in Canada’s largest circulation newspaper. The word karma comes to mind here. While keeping skilled youth workers on the job and preserving a unique and valuable program was not affordable for Ontario Shores, sending staff to have meetings in Boca Raton was for York Central Hospital.
“They regretted the optics associated with the location of conference,” the York Central Hospital Board Chair told the Toronto Star. “It was an unfortunate mistake they planned the conference together and in Florida.”
Wait a minute here: Optics? Conference?
The Star reports the meeting was to enhance “the clinical management of the hospital’s medical services.” Part of it was to include a session on accountability.
This was not a medical “conference” held by the American Medical Association or any other national or international organization. This was a York Central Hospital meeting – or as they liked to call it, a “retreat.”
Likely most people would understand the need for professionals to attend major conferences to share their knowledge and keep up-to-date with new developments. Some of these do take place in destinations better known for sun and sand. This was a business meeting of which the key participants worked in Richmond Hill, Ontario, not Boca Raton, Florida.
If they felt the need to get away from the hospital, Ontario is rich with “retreats,” many within a short drive of York Central. Many of these “retreats” pay taxes, which in turn support York Central Hospital.
We understand the disastrous optics of the situation. Have Fonberg and company not read a newspaper in the last six months to have figured this out beforehand? Is that why they needed a speaker from Boca Raton to talk to them about accountability?
Only regretting the optics suggests that had the trip been kept from the public, the situation might have been okay.