By James Matthews
Concerned citizen groups believe the Haliburton Highlands Health Services annual general meeting was a missed opportunity to engage the public.
The health service met in a virtual AGM on June 22. The organization will host its first open house for one hour starting 3:30 p.m. on June 29 in Room 1 at the Minden Community Centre.
Audited financial statements showed HHHS has assets and liabilities totalling about $24.9 million as of March 31. That’s lower than the $30.4 million that was on the books the previous year.
Revenue totalled $35.04 million to March 31, compared to $35.8 million in 2022. Expenses were $39.4 million for the year ended March 31. In 2022, expenses totalled $35.75 million. That’s a shortfall of about $4.2 million.
Darlene Moore, the vice-president of support services and the HHHS chief financial officer, said the organization has $3.3 million in debt at March 31.
Some community members who took in the meeting were left wanting by the performances of Veronica Nelson, the HHHS acting president and CEO, and David O’Brien, the board of directors’ chairperson, during the brief question-and-answer session at the end of the meeting.
“Once again, HHHS has chosen to silence the community and evade their responsibility to the people of Minden,” said Patrick Porzuczek of the group Minden Matters.
“The lack of transparency and meaningful community involvement demonstrated during the meeting continues to raise serious questions about the board’s commitment to serving the best interests of the entire community it claims to represent.”
Jeff Nicholls is a member of the group of concerned citizens behind the website mindenpaper.com. He, too, thought the AGM was lacking.
The meeting was a missed opportunity to discuss the CEO and board performance over the past year, Nicholls said.
Nicholls said an AGM is a chance for an organization to consider the year ahead by looking at its performance of the previous year and what could have been done better. That diagnostic retrospective should inform the performance of the decision-makers over the following year.
Both Minden Matters and the crowd that runs the Minden Paper online entity were formed in response to the June 1 closure of the emergency department in the township.
Porzuczek lamented the fact that the meeting was held virtually with chat turned off hampered viewers from the community giving constructive feedback.
“No attendees were allowed to speak,” he said. “The meeting fell short of providing any meaningful opportunities for open dialogue, constructive feedback, or transparent decision-making.”
A perceived lack of communication during the process that led to the ER closure has been grieved by local township mayors and elected officials at the county level since the announcement was made mere weeks before June 1.
During the AGM, Nelson, who took over the helm from Carolyn Plummer just weeks ago, cited unfamiliarity with issues during the questions and answer session.
“We cannot make progress on the issues that face the community if at every turn we are blocked from the process,” Porzuczek said. “The board’s continued failure to address the impact of the Minden ER closure and address this crucial aspect undermines the trust and confidence of the very community it is obligated to serve.”
HHHS spoke about its vision and values during the meeting, which are compassion, accountability, integrity and respect.
All those values would’ve been better served with more transparency and better communication, better governance, said Nicholls.
Porzuczek said the health board failed all those values.
“The minimal community involvement allowed at the meeting only further compounds the issue,” he said. “The community members who rely on the hospital’s services have valuable insights and perspectives that should be considered when making decisions that impact their health care.”
While it is good that HHHS is attempting to reach out to the community, Nicholls said having an open house in the middle of a work day afternoon will exclude some people.