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FUREY: It’s time hospital CEOs faced some public scrutiny – Toronto Sun

Author of the article:

Anthony Furey

The UHN covers Toronto General, Toronto Western and Princess Margaret Hospitals, among other facilities.
The University Health Network covers Toronto General, Toronto Western and Princess Margaret Hospitals, among other facilities. Photo by JACK BOLAND /TORONTO SUN

When Alberta backtracked on its plans to do away with most COVID-19 restrictions and bring in a vaccine passport system in September, their main rationale was hospital capacity issues.


While their modelling had told them they’d be fine, more people than predicted were being admitted to hospital with COVID-19. Protect the hospitals, they said. That was the guiding principle.

That message is of course far from new. While we did the first lockdowns because we didn’t know what we were dealing with, the justification for the lockdowns in fall 2020 and winter 2021 was to protect the hospitals.

But this reminds us that we’ve known for a long time that capacity was a challenge. So each time the argument is used, the public should be less willing to accept it because the powers that be have had that much more time to solve the underlying problems.

The myth of Canada’s superior healthcare system has now been exposed. It’s been shocking to see how easily a relatively small ICU occupancy figure can bring our system to its knees. And OECD data shows we’re towards the back of the pack when it comes to beds per capita, with the United States slightly ahead of us.


When it comes to key figures visible in this conversation, the people we see the most are politicians and senior officials at the podium and frontline hospital physicians on television and social media. But there is one group most directly responsible for the management of our hospital system, yet they have managed to avoid the limelight and public scrutiny: hospital executives.

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Some of the highest paid public servants in the country are healthcare administrators. Ontario’s Sunshine List Top 10, for example, includes two hospital CEOs: University Health Network’s Kevin Smith made $844,992 as of last count, with Unity Health’s Tim Rutledge pulling in $776,412.

We should be putting a few more pointed questions to this crowd.


It seems to be a major abdication of responsibility to earn north of half a million dollars from the public only to turn around and tell that same public that hospital capacity issues are in fact their responsibility, because they didn’t “stay home” enough, and that the solution lies not in how those CEOs are managing their own tasks, but that it is in fact the public that must “do more”.

This is pretty much the position that was repeatedly put forward by the Ontario Hospital Association, the collective voice of these execs, throughout successive waves.

(Speaking of the OHA, CEO Anthony Dale – who never saw a lockdown measure he didn’t like – brings in $433,462 per year. When considering his public statements on pandemic restrictions, the public should keep in mind that Dale is not a doctor. He’s a former Mike Harris aide who climbed the healthcare admin ladder.)


We knew by the summer 2020 that hospital capacity issues were looming. So why couldn’t they have figured this problem out by that fall? Ah, it’s not that easy, they insisted, to that quickly scale up resources – even if you can get the beds you can’t just snap your fingers and procure the required staff. Fair enough. But the months ticked by and they still stuck to these excuses and, in Alberta, stick to it still.

The most basic of business leadership books will tell you that the mark of a good executive is not how they perform when things are moving smoothly, but what they do when tough times arise.

Now, the latest refrain these execs have adopted is that we urgently need to fire nurses and other staff who aren’t vaccinated. This will of course only worsen the previous staffing issues that were supposedly what justified past lockdowns. And even though Ontario hospitals can do this independently, the OHA is upset the Ford government isn’t mandating it provincewide.

These administrators sure like to point fingers at everyone but themselves. Maybe it’s time we stopped listening so much to what they want everyone else to do, and instead started asking them what it is that they’re planning to do.

They have a job and it’s to manage hospitals. If they’re not up to it, well, instead of giving so many nurses the boot, maybe we should axe a few high-paid execs.

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