Thunder Bay lags behind other hospitals in fulfilling freedom of information request

Evidently some hospitals have kinks to work out in their processing of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

In mid-February we sent out requests – along with an initial $5 fee – to 20 hospitals to look at how the ratio of front line workers to managers has changed over the last five years.

Three months later we still don’t have all the information despite FOI rules that set a 30-day time limit for responding unless the information holder sends an extension letter.

Some hospitals ask for a 50 per cent fee in advance based on cost estimates to retrieve the information. Some hospitals decided to simply waive any fees associated with this particular request given the basic nature of what we were asking. One recognized us as one of the unions representing workers at their hospital and decided to send back the $5 request fee. They said this is the kind of information they would normally provide to the union.

The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre sent us an invoice asking for a deposit of $71.35 to access the information. The assumption was, like other hospitals, a final invoice would come with the information we were seeking.

Yesterday we received another invoice for the remaining $71.35 before they will actually send us the information.

What was the point of the deposit?

Why not just send us an invoice for $142.50 in the first place, rather than send two invoices before we can access the public information we seek?

That’s two invoices that had to be prepared. Two letters had to be written to accompany the invoices, plus one for the extension and another with the final information, unless, of course, Thunder Bay decides it needs another extension. Two cheques had to be processed at either end.

This is not an extensive request. Most of the hospitals are sending us the information we seek on a single sheet of paper . Most arrived within the 30-day window.

Is it any wonder it has taken us three months and counting to get information out of Thunder Bay?

Our modest project has cost us $1,637.76 to get basic information that any hospital administrator should reasonably have at their fingertips.

For a large union, it is a sizeable but not insurmountable total. For an individual researcher, this could be prohibitive. FOI fees can be appealed, but of course this would only lengthen the request period.

Several years ago we sent a freedom of information request to find out the operating budget of a publicly-run ambulance dispatch center in Niagara. The request was to look at comparable funding and staffing levels as a support to our members who were bargaining in nearby Hamilton. Through extensions, denials and appeals, the group was in its next round of bargaining before the information ever arrived.

Transparency can be a strong disinfectant when it comes to the way government and business operates.

It could work better than this.

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