Opposition MLA Sidney MacEwen says the Health P.E.I. board must do more to make its meetings accessible to Islanders, after encountering roadblocks trying to attend the public portion of the board’s monthly meeting Tuesday.
The Morell-Mermaid MLA raised the issue of public access to meetings of the Health P.E.I. board of directors during the recent fall session of the legislature, noting his desire to see them opened to the public.
Health Minister Robert Henderson seemed to flip-flop on the issue at the time, first stating the board meetings were mainly closed-door, in-camera meetings and later clarifying their openness to the public is decided at the discretion of the board.
Henderson stressed the board was “always open to receive requests from the public and will, when possible, accommodate the public’s request.”
MacEwen decided to put this to the test.
He called Health P.E.I. ahead of time to ask if he could attend the Tuesday monthly meeting of the board and was told the public portion of the meeting would be from 10 to 11 a.m.
When he arrived at the Health P.E.I. offices on Garfield Street in Charlottetown, however, he was met with confused staffers who seemed unsure of whether he should be permitted access.
“I went to the boardroom, the doors were shut so I knocked on the door,” he said.
“That’s when the confusion started.”
Acting Health P.E.I. CEO Keith Dewar told MacEwen he wasn’t permitted to attend unless he was making a presentation, which requires an application and approval. Eventually some board members, who recognized MacEwen as an elected official, agreed to let him stay – but not before meeting for a few minutes behind closed doors before allowing MacEwen entry.
Overall, MacEwen says he found the meeting itself to be informative and the members to be engaged and inquisitive on the issues that were discussed, which included an update on the search for a permanent CEO, an update on recent investments in frontline services and presentations on patient experiences and information from the quality and safety division of Health P.E.I.
The public would benefit from seeing the work of this board, which oversees the largest department in government, MacEwen says.
“We’re talking about a $660-million budget. It’s approaching half of our provincial budget. These meetings should be public not only so Islanders know how this money is being spent, but it’s an avenue for the board to get their message out to the public, too,” he said.
MLA Sidney MacEwen
“Once I was finally able to get into the meeting, I was able to learn that information. Why can’t we all learn that?”
He is calling on government to make Health P.E.I. board meetings more open and accessible to the public, including more public advertisement of meetings and releasing the agenda ahead of time, as is done with the board meetings for the Public Schools Branch board of directors.
He also noted the lack of seating for public members who do want to attend and a lack of clear rules or procedures for dealing with Islanders who may want to attend and ask questions.
“Although they say these meetings are public, it certainly is a work in progress, and I hope that we’ve broken some new ground here today so people will feel much more comfortable and invited in, rather than having to go through this application process to go to a public meeting,” MacEwen said.
This fall, the province did make changes to the act that governs the board of directors of Health P.E.I., including introducing a term limit for board members of three years and a limit of two consecutive terms. A change was also made to give the minister of health the power to revoke the appointment of board members who fail to attend three consecutive meetings without a reasonable excuse or if they have been convicted of an offence.