Council amends resolution on clinic

The issue of the future of the Fort Frances Clinic sparked debate once again Monday night as town council voted to amend a resolution regarding its relationship to the Group Health Association.
CAO Mark McCaig explained to council Monday that GHA’s board of directors met Nov. 24 and requested two amendments be made to the resolution that council passed on Oct. 24: the financing of up to $1 million should go to a not-for-profit group, not GHA, and that GHA should not be identified as a board member in this new group but strictly as an advisor.
Greg Punch, with the Group Health Association, explained the rationale for both requested amendments in an e-mail to McCaig.
“At the community session [Oct. 12], we advised that financing from the town would go directly to the NFP [not-for-profit] and not to GHA since we did not want the liability to accrue with us,” he wrote.
“Our board does not want this liability and wishes to remain at arm’s-length.
“The town’s resolution as it is written directs the financing to GHA. Can the resolution be rewritten to reflect this condition?” he added.
With regards to asking to be strictly an advisor as opposed to a board member, Punch wrote: “The logic behind this is since we are a consultant and receiving financial benefit from the NFP, we would have a significant conflict of interest.”
McCaig, who stressed as an administrator his job is to facilitate the decisions of council and not advocate for or against what happens with the clinic, noted in an interview yesterday that the requested amendments don’t change GHA’s proposed role.
“They’re going to be setting up a Family Health Team, and they’re going to be in charge of the management of the clinic,” he said.
But these amendments raised many questions Monday night.
“I’m in favour of this whole process going forward. And I’m in favour of Group Health’s involvement in this process,” said Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft.
“I still have concerns and reservations that if we hand this money to a non-profit organization that has no assets other than the building itself, there’s a greater reluctance on my part to lend that significant amount of money,” he added.
“You’re speaking to a lot of issues that would be inherent in a financing agreement and we’re not at that stage yet,” replied McCaig. “The financing agreement would be driven by the wishes of council, as per what you want to see in it.”
McCaig noted aspects such as terms of payments, liability, and security all would be covered once the process reaches financing agreement stage.
“We’re a ways away from that yet,” he said.
“Before we had a resolution with Group Health, providing them with funds. Now, that same organization is saying, ‘We don’t want to be part of that,’” said Mayor Dan Onichuk.
“So my question is this: Who’s putting together the not-for-profit corporation and should the not-for-profit corporation, once established, be requesting financial assistance from the community?
“A little backwards here, aren’t we?”
McCaig noted GHA has agreed to help establish the not-for-profit corporation, but the town could just as easily do that itself.
“In terms of determining the board, who would be the stakeholders, the name speaks for itself: community-based, not-for-profit. I could probably name [those stakeholders] off the top of my head,” he said.
“Should that not be established before we move forward?” argued the mayor. “We’re going to have to negotiate something with somebody.”
“That’s a couple of steps down the road. If you had a problem with the governance of the not-for-profit corporation, you wouldn’t agree to put the financing agreement in place,” answered McCaig.
Coun. John Albanese said he felt the amended relocation was “completely transformed” from the one council passed Oct. 24—and felt it should be rescinded altogether.
“Don’t you think we should wait and see? Let the people of Fort Frances know what’s going on and exactly what we’re going to get for this million dollars we’re going to loan them?” he asked.
“To me, this [amended resolution] is garbage,” Coun. Albanese added. “The people of Fort Frances deserve a better answer than what you’re giving me now.
“The people want to know exactly what we’re going to do, what is the proposal.
“I believe in the doctors, I believe in health care,” he stressed. “But I also believe the people of Fort Frances deserve a chance to know what we’re going to do with a million dollars.”
Coun. Wiedenhoeft said he agreed with the mayor that it was a “horse and buggy situation.”
But McCaig said the amendments Monday evening didn’t preclude forming a not-for-profit corporation prior to the financing agreement being drawn up, and in fact, such a body would have to exist in order for such an agreement to be negotiated.
Coun. Todd Hamilton reiterated he had complete faith the physicians who brought the proposal forward to work with GHA know what direction the clinic should go, just as the town trusts in any other professional—whether it be a lawyer or engineer—it hires to handle specific tasks.
“I don’t disagree with you,” said Mayor Onichuk, adding he would like some legal counsel before moving forward with the amended resolution to clarify the difference between roles like “board member” and “advisor.”
“What we’re basically doing right now is taking control of our own destiny,” said Coun. Roy Avis, adding he felt the town should keep the process going, with the aim to establish a not-for-profit organization “run by the people of the community.”
The vote to make these amendments was 5-2, with Couns. Avis, Tannis Drysdale, Hamilton, Neil Kabel, and Wiedenhoeft in favour of it. Mayor Onichuk and Coun. Albanese were against it.