A northern Ontario hospital and two senior staff have initiated a $500,000 legal claim against a group of nine activists opposing formal amalgamation as the North East LHIN has begun its own separate investigation into complaints about the hospital.
Among the nine activists is Jim Brown, the former Mayor of Iroquois Falls.
Anger has been confused by finger-pointing over responsibility for the amalgamation proposal.
The North East LHIN is denying claims made by hospital CEO Bruce Peterkin that it is pressuring three hospital boards to amalgamate in Cochrane, Iroquois Falls and Black River-Matheson. They instead put the proposal back on Peterkin, describing it as a volunteer integration.
Getting staff consensus on the formal amalgamation would not be difficult — at present all three hospitals share one administration, with Peterkin serving as CEO of all three. The three hospitals share services under the umbrella of the MICs Group of Health Services.
The principle difference behind the proposal is that instead of having three hospital boards there would be one, reducing local control over the individual sites.
Nobody has yet raised the issue of loss of funding that may result from formal amalgamation due to a new hospital funding formula introduced this year. Having already gone the route proposed for MICs, South Bruce Grey Health Centre has appealed to the South West LHIN for help after losing funding under the scheme. While small hospitals are supposed to be exempt from the formula, amalgamation may make the three big enough for inclusion.
The epicenter of this battle is the Anson General Hospital in Iroquois Falls where 300 people demonstrated outside in February demanding answers from the board over the recent departure of six doctors and a nurse practitioner. They blame Peterkin for the problems, chanting for his resignation. The demonstrators included two individuals who the Timmins Press says were “unceremoniously removed” from the hospital board. One of them was Rene Boucher, another previous Mayor of Iroquois Falls.
The 34-bed Anson General has been under a cloud for months. Activists allege the Anson has a “toxic” work environment that is responsible for the departure of key professionals.
Demonstrators fear that some of the face-to-face care they have received will be replaced by implementation of telemedicine at the hospital. The Ontario Telemedicine Network would link the hospital to distant specialists.
The hospital is also dealing with allegations of improper billing after it assumed management of the Iroquois Falls Family Health Team in January of last year. Christine Blatchford writes in the National Post that doctors at the Anson General were “double-charging” the Health Ministry for the same work. Physicians are paid an annual “capitation” fee for rostered patients, but it is alleged they were also counting time at the hospital’s ER as part of their service obligations. This is despite separate compensation for their emergency room work.
Peterkin is now telling the media that improper billing and invoicing practices have been “curtailed.”
The North East LHIN has given consulting firm KPMG an April 30 deadline to complete their investigation into the hospital.
Meanwhile NDP MPP John Vanthof told the legislature that the legal action was “to intimidate the people who were actually standing up for the community” and questioned the use of hospital funding to pay for the high-profile Toronto law firm engaged by MICs.
He called upon Health Minister Deb Matthews to protect the nine whistleblowers.
Vanthof said it took “repeated requests” for the LHIN to initiate its investigation.
Meanwhile the current Mayors of the three towns covered by MICs issued their own release. The unusual release emphasized it is not their role to become involved in the “business affairs” of these hospitals.