Sixty thousand letters that swamped her Ministry, complaining about the taking over Catholic hospitals in Ontario, appear to have caused second thoughts and sent the Hon. Frances Lankin scrambling for a new position.

Ms. Lankin, Ontario’s Minister of Health, stated in a closed meeting of hospital chief executive officers and members of district health councils on September 21 that her government “has no intention of expropriating your ownership, or undermining your role, as happened for example in New Brunswick.”

This appears to contradict her original position outlined in a May 1 speech when she said that hospital boards in Ontario in the past were not as representative as they now need to be. We need to discuss the concept of elected boards and/or boards with designated director from stakeholder groups.”

This position had caused fear in Ontario Catholic circles that even abortion could be forced on Catholic hospitals through the election or appointment of pro-abortion board members. Certainly, they thought that at least the pro-life philosophy behind Catholic hospitals would be endangered.

September 21

At the September 21 meeting Lankin told hospital officials that her position had been misinterpreted. Rev. Angus Macdougall, general secretary of the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that the bishops now believe Lankin has “backed off.”

Lankin told them that her own priority is to increase the responsiveness and accountability of hospitals to their local community, but not necessarily by insisting that every hospital have a fully elected board.

Meanwhile a survey of hospital trustees indicates that they, too, oppose election. Business leaders won’t sit on hospital boards if they have to be elected to get there. Introducing elections “could be devastating” to hospitals, the authors of the survey say. (Toronto Star, September 24.)

The letter-writing campaign was mounted by Archbishop Aloysius Ambrozic and the Catholic Bishops all through Ontario in August. Thousands of complaining letters poured into the Minister of Health’s offices. It is only now lessening, according to the Ministry’s communications spokesman, Layne Verbeek.

Other provinces

In New Brunswick the McKenna Liberals passed legislation taking over all hospitals in the late spring of this year. There was no consultation with the hospitals or their boards. In early summer the Romanow NDP government in Saskatchewan published plans to do the same, and the Liberal government of Clyde Wells in Newfoundland is moving in the same direction.

Saskatchewan has 13 hospitals and eight nursing homes. Unrest among Catholics has led Health Minister Louise Simard to assure Catholic health caregivers at their annual convention in Estevan, September 20-22, that their “mission, values and ethics will be respected.” But members now want their ethics statement written into the new health care bill. (For more on Saskatchewan, see Joe Campbell elsewhere in this issue.)