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.
Posted in Health System, Hospitals
Tagged Bluewater Health, Chatham-Kent Health Alliance, FIPPA, Freedom of Information, Grey Bruce Health Services, Hamilton Health Sciences, Hawkesbury and District Hospital, Health Sciences North, Hospital Freedom of Information, Kingston General Hospital, Niagara Health System, Ontario Shores, Peterborough Regional Health Centre, Quinte Health, Rouge Valley Health System, Royal Ottawa Health Group, South Bruce Grey Health Centre, The Ottawa Hospital, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences, Waypoint Centre, Windsor Regional Hospital, York Central Hospital
The media have been on a feeding frenzy today around Tuesday’s disclosure of hospital executive compensation packages. Like the sunshine list, it is a chance for the private sector to paint a picture about how the public sector has been wining and dining on the taxes of the downtrodden, even if it is less than true.
The real story is there are really no big revelations here.
The most shocking example we found appears to be the work of sloppy reporting rather than executive excess.
The Toronto Star reported that Dr. Robert Howard, CEO of St. Michael’s Hospital, was receiving “a $75,000 allowance for a car.” This would lead most people to believe Howard was getting $75,000 each year to apply to a lease or purchase of a vehicle. In fact, had the reporters been a bit more careful, they might have figured out that it was for a lease or equivalent for a car whose retail value was up to $75,000. Nice, but at this level, ho-hum.
The latest amendment to Ontario’s Budget Bill 173 fails to address concerns raised around a change to freedom of information legislation that will permit greater hospital secrecy.
Schedule 15 of Bill 173 enables a hospital CEO to shield from public scrutiny any information about quality of care produced for or by a hospital committee. More than a dozen groups appeared before the legislature’s Standing Committee on Financial and Economic Affairs in April asking the offending schedule be removed.
Instead the McGuinty government has amended the proposed Bill to exempt “information provided in confidence to, or records prepared with the expectation of confidentiality by, a hospital committee to assess or evaluate the quality of healthcare and directly related programs and services provided by a hospital, if the assessment or evaluation is for the purpose of improving that care and the programs and services.”
Ontario hospitals are the last in Canada to come under Freedom of Information legislation. After introducing a public sector accountability bill last fall that would open up hospitals to freedom of information requests beginning January 2012, the McGuinty government recently caved-in to a lobby by the Ontario Hospital Association, the Ontario Medical Association and a private insurance company to narrow what would be accessible.
“The government’s amendment allows hospital executives to make some documents secret by simply stamping ‘confidential’ on them or retroactively suggesting that the records were intended to be private,” says Cybele Sack of Impatient for Change, a patient advocacy group. “Our freedom of information laws are meant to increase transparency and this amendment undermines that spirit.”
The final act is expected to be passed by the majority Liberal government this Thursday (May 5).
There are further signs that by the time hospitals are subject to Freedom of Information legislation in 2012, what’s left to get won’t be worth the effort.
The London Free Press reports that hospitals are being warned to “cleanse” their files of anything that might embarrass them before the public gets the right to access it come January 2012.
The warnings come from Toronto-based law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt. Many hospitals across Ontarioare on OH&H’s client list.
“I was astounded at the language,” Ann Cavoukian,Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, told the newspaper. “Just using the word ‘cleansing’ is highly inappropriate. It suggests shredding, eliminating, hiding – getting rid of material before the end of the year.”
Health Minister Deb Matthews said she expects hospitals to “embrace the spirit” of the legislation.
However, while this is taking place, the province itself has slipped an amendment into the budget bill that will exclude hospitals form divulging “information provided to, or records prepared by, a hospital committee for the purposes of evaluating the quality of health care and directly related programs and services provided by the hospital.”