Now that hospitals are subject to Freedom of Information requests, how accessible will this information really be? It all depends on the hospital and how much money you have.
It cost us $1,637.76 to find out what the ratio of staff to management was at 20 hospital corporations. That includes the $5 processing fee it takes to initiate the request.
Hospitals came under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act on January 1st of this year, although the Ontario Hospital Association sought and received additional exemption from divulging quality information under specific circumstances.
For years we have heard front line staff complain that their numbers have dwindled while the ranks of management have increased. We decided to test that question with requests to 20 randomly selected hospitals where OPSEU represents members. This includes four mental health centres – Penetanguishene’s Waypoint Centre, Whitby’s Ontario Shores, London’s St. Joseph’s Health Centre (Regional Mental Health), and the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group.
We asked what the management-staff ratios have been at the hospitals for the past five years — the maximum allowed under recent legislation. We asked that those ratios be expressed in FTEs – full-time equivalents. After calls from numerous hospitals asking for clarification, we suggested that the ratios could be expressed by fiscal year (April 1 – March 31) and that they could use the same definition of “management” as is used in the Management Information System (MIS) standard guidelines.
Some hospitals, such as Quinte Health Care, immediately agreed to our request and waived any fees associated with the request, stating this is the kind of information they would normally provide to the union. That includes returning the $5 cheque we wrote as part of the initial freedom of information request. They had originally indicated, before waiving the fees, that the search and copying would amount to $15. Quinte was also the first to send us the information, including both FTE and head count ratios.
Seven more of 20 hospitals waived any additional charge over and beyond the $5 application fee.
At the other end of the spectrum is Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health, which claimed it had to “develop computer programs” in order to retrieve its labour-management ratios. Should we require data by calendar year, it estimated a cost of $360 for six hours of computer programming, two hours to conduct the search once the computer program was prepared ($60), and preparation of our “ratio” that would take an additional two hours ($60). To copy the one page would cost an additional 20 cents. The total: $480.20. Data by fiscal year would save three hours of computer programming and cost $300.20. In the end Ontario Shores sent us the data, telling us it took them three hours longer than estimated, but were not passing on these additional costs.
The Chatham-Kent Health Alliance put in an estimate for $270.00, stating that it would take nine hours to work out what their management-staff ratio was. Next time we may send them an abacus.
That’s four hours longer that Grey Bruce Health Services and Thunder Bay Regional Health, which claimed it would take about five hours to crunch their numbers.
Clearly for many hospitals this information was readily available. Cost was nominal or the information provided as a courtesy.
Most of the freedom of information officers we spoke with were very friendly and helpful.
Whereas most hospitals gave us their management numbers, a handful chose instead to give us the larger classification of “management and operational support” (MOS) which includes supervisors, administrative assistants and case management team assistants.
We asked Peterborough for a breakdown of who is in their MOS classification. They agreed to send it, although it has yet to arrive.
Comparisons between hospitals will be difficult under the circumstances, although the data will at least show us whether or not individual hospitals are bulking up on managers.
The requests were made February 15. As of April 2nd four hospitals have yet to send us the information we are seeking despite a 30 day deadline established under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy legislation. We have had no letters from these hospitals asking for an extension of that deadline.
What are the implications? This was a relatively simple request. This is an obvious question to ask in tough economic times. One has to wonder about the information systems maintained by some of these hospitals when we are told that it will take nine hours to calculate what the management to labour ratios have been for the last five years. Our sampling represents a little over 13 per cent of Ontario hospitals. Had we been seeking the same information from all Ontario hospitals, the estimates suggest costs would have been in excess of $12,000.
Does that make hospitals open and transparent? We think not.
So what were the results? Stay tuned — we’ll let you know once all hospitals have reported.
Cost of the request by hospital:
Ontario Shores: $300.20
Chatham-Kent Health Alliance: $270.00
South Bruce Grey Health Centre: $210.00
Bluewater Health: $202.50
Grey Bruce Health Services: $150.00
Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences: $142.50
Health Sciences North (Sudbury): $90.20
Waypoint Centre: $68.03
Kingston General Hospital: $34.13
York Central Hospital: $30.20
The Ottawa Hospital: $30.00
Hamilton Health Sciences: $15
Quinte Health Care: $15 (Waived)
Hawkesbury & District General Hospital: No Charge
Niagara Health System: No Charge
Peterborough Regional Health Centre: No Charge
Royal Ottawa Health Group: No Charge
Rouge Valley Health System: No Charge
St. Joseph’s Health Care, London: No Charge
Windsor Regional Hospital: No Charge