Armchair Mayor column for Saturday, April 17, 2010
“Is this triage? I’m having a heart attack!”
“Did you pay for your parking, sir?”
“Uh, no, I’m having these chest pains, see, and —.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll have to hoof it over to the parking machine and pay up. And I suggest you hustle before the tow truck comes.”
“Can you make change?”
“Different department. . . . Next, please.”
But, as they say, I digress.
Ah, to have been a fly on the wall when City council met with Interior Health Authority officials this past Tuesday. That’s when mayor and council got the first clue that Royal Inland Hospital was to become a fiefdom of the Kingdom of Kelowna, an administrative chattel, a mere satellite somewhere outside the castle moat.
Did the “B” word escape the lips of Mayor Peter Milobar — he of the even temper and “balanced approach” — when then-chief operating officer for Thompson Cariboo Shuswap Andrew Neuner, about to become “vice president of community integration,” let it drop that an announcement was on the way?
Were Neuner and health services administrator Marg Brown fortunate to escape with their heads? (Being the bearer of bad tidings has always been a risky business.)
I digress, again, to note that Brown was the architect of the women’s auxiliaries fiasco, in which decades of service by those organizations was rewarded with the big heave ho, the unceremonious boot, from the corridors of RIH. These IHA folks are on a roll.
There is no joy in the Loops this day. Just as we were beginning to think we were almost as good as Kelowna, we get a reality check. We get the ol’ slap down, put firmly in our place, told we don’t quite rate up there with the big boys.
And it isn’t just the news itself, but the whole disrespect thing. A notice to staff, followed by official word to area mayors and regional district folks, was supposed to go out Tuesday afternoon. It didn’t, instead being sent some 24 hours later, by which time leakage was underway.
As Milobar waited for the official notification, he was instead presented with public comments on the subject by IHA board chair Norm Embree. That’s when he uttered the “B’ word right there on radio, after which every reporter in town was after him to repeat it, to which he obliged, throwing in a few others, like “mismanagement,” “absolutely ridiculous,” “lack of transparency” and “enough is enough” in an effort to be clear on what he thinks of IHA’s handling of RIH.
One might think news of this kind would be deserving of general dissemination among the peasantry, but no press release followed. A check of the IHA website Thursday included the re-written job descriptions of the “senior executive team” fitting with the new order of things, but still no press release. Biggest item on the site was the startling news that April is daffodil month.
Friday morning, it was still daffodil month. And, the mayor was still waiting for a phone call from IHA chief Robert Halpenny, Embree, Joanne Konnert (now in charge of RIH), Health Minister Kevin Falcon, anybody.
“It’s Friday and I’m done leaving voice mails,” he said of his efforts to get hold of a live body at IHA. (Halpenny did finally get back to him later in the day.)
This lack of attention to small details like telling people what they’re up to shouldn’t be particularly surprising, since IHA didn’t bother telling patients they’d now have to pay for parking at the ER, either. Indeed, though it boasts a fine staff of communications officers, IHA is one of the toughest organizations around to get information out of.
Confronted for comment Thursday, MLAs Terry Lake and Kevin Krueger sided with the IHA, bravely insisting that ripping the administrative heart out of Royal Inland’s chest cavity like a scene from Aliens is good for health care.
One wonders what rabbit they will pull from the hat to extricate themselves from the political warren they’re digging for themselves this time, as once again they’re in the glue and on the opposite end of an issue from City council.
As for the new boss of RIH, Joanne Konnert, who is that, you might ask? The Kelowna resident is now vice president of tertiary services, one of a growing legion of VPs in the increasingly complex IHA hierarchy.
If she isn’t feeling like she’s No. 1 in the hearts and minds of Kamloopsians right now, well, she’s no stranger to unpopular situations. When a Delta mother caught a flesh-eating bacterial infection after having a Caesarean section at Surrey Memorial Hospital, Konnert was chief operating officer for the Fraser Health Authority. She was the one who had to face the media.
When Kelowna General got in hot water after a patient spent the last two weeks of his life alone in a hospital bed, then five days in the morgue before his family was notified, Konnert was given the job of refusing comment on behalf of the health authority.
When 1,000 orthopedic, gynecological and general surgery patients got backed up after IHA cancelled a contract with a private operating facility, it was Konnert who explained that it was costing too much.
Whether she’ll get a raise on her current $270,000 package for the added aggravation of overseeing the Kamloops ingrates is unclear at this time.
Meanwhile, back at the ER, it would be a good idea to keep some spare change in the ashtray of your car just in case you have to make an emergency visit.