06 March 2008

It's different when you make the rules for yourself

The odd thing about municipal affairs minister Dave Denine's comments on the provincial government's unsprinklered hospitals is that it is exactly what privately-owned personal care home operators said about their own facilities. 

In fact, they didn't say it themselves.  They worked it out with officials of the health department. Extra staff.  Special evacuation procedures, pretty much everything that Denine says about hospitals and nursing homes operated by the government.

Bear in mind, too that people in the government facilities are considerably less mobile than the people in most of the personal care homes. Think bed-ridden versus using a walker or cane.

It's funny how perspective changes when you make the rules for things you operate versus making the rules others have to live by.

Denine on personal care homes:

"This has come to the point that we just couldn't continue on any longer," Denine told reporters in Corner Brook, where the provincial cabinet has been meeting.

"The timeframe has come and gone when this should be done…. This has to be moved forward for life safety issues."

Denine on government operations:

"They know what they have to do in case of emergency. There [are] fire doors there that help prevent fire from spreading, and the fire commissioner's office is satisfied that all necessary precautions are in place," Denine said.

And when will the sprinklers be installed?

Denine said the government has classified all the hospitals as a high priority, and that they will either have new sprinkler systems installed, or the buildings will be replaced over time.

That's pretty much what the personal care home operators did.  The last 22 were doing it as well when Denine and his colleague Ross Wiseman decided to get self-righteous.  At least one of the 22 homes was finishing the installation when the closure order was delivered. Another was sorting out the last details of building a completely new facility.

And health officials knew all about it before the orders were delivered.

Sounds like a poll stunt as much as the evident hypocrisy.

An update involving a sprinkling of uncomfortable phrases:  The provincial fire commissioner has either been gagged or has muzzled himself but late on Thursday, he issued a news release indicating he was  "comfortable" with the fire safety situations at 71 provincially-owned health facilities.

He's "comfortable."

That's such a wonderful, meaningless phrase.

Now aside from the fact fire commissioner Fred Hollett has been kept under lock and key since this whole hospital scandal broke, it's a bit hard to take this news release as anything other than an effort to get out from under the weight of the scandal. 

It is severely lacking in credibility from the get go, and the content doesn't help.  There's even a table that is supposed to provide some background information on the fire commissioners opinion.

Notice the crucial bits of data that are missing.

Like when was the building last inspected by someone from the fire commissioners office.  Of the 10 sites listed, six show as being inspected only on request of the agency operating the building and there's absolutely no indication when they were last inspected at all.

Only four show the date of the last inspection.  Of those, three were inspected in 2006, with at least one of those having last been inspected almost two years ago.

It's nice to know Fred Hollett  - no relation, by the way - is comfortable with all that. it's nice but it's totally irrelevant.

When it comes to the safety of the sick and elderly, most of us think hard facts and proof are more important than Fred's emotional state.

And what else is there?  A claim that government has spent $128 million over the past four years on "new health infrastructure and capital repairs and maintenance, including fire sprinkler systems...".  You see, as soon as a news release supposedly about the fire commissioner's professional opinion starts quoting a cabinet minister talking about how much money government has spent, you know you have an old fashioned bit of knob-polishing going on.

You see that phrase includes purchases of major pieces of capital equipment like MRIs.

That sort of stuff - paid for with federal cash - doesn't explain why Eastern Health went looking for money to deal with critical and near critical issues totalling $90 million and got a mere $3. million.

When the facts aren't on your side,  you issue a release like this and start ordering Kiwi turd-coloured polish by the case.