Sickening News

It’s enough to make you sick — or at the very least sicken Ontario’s 43,000 doctors.

According to documents obtained by the Toronto Sun, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) spent nearly 40% of the roughly $68-million it took in last year, largely from doctor’s mandatory fees, sustaining its bloated bureaucracy in its Mink Mile digs and trying to convince members it has their best interests at heart.

Those 2016 audited statements and a financial report to last fall’s OMA council meeting show that only $4.2-million went to negotiations in what was the third year physicians were without a contract — and as demoralized doctors faced the fallout of health minister Eric Hoskins’ 7% in unilateral cuts to fees.

Dr. Kulvinder Gill, president and co-founder of Concerned Ontario Doctors, says the provincial government signed a special Rand agreement with the OMA in 1991 (allowing them to charge mandatory dues) precisely so they’d become the official negotiating body for doctors.

To add insult to injury, the OMA brass spent $3.7-million on a four-hour general membership meeting last August to try to ram a contentious four-year deal with the Kathleen Wynne government down members’ throats.

A cost breakdown from that meeting shows that the OMA ate up $397,943 alone on catering for a mere 586 delegates.

Another $346,568 was blown to stage the meeting and a further $284,000 on communications strategy and research.

The tentative four-year deal was voted down by 63% of the membership.

Dr. Shawn Whatley, OMA president since May, defends the $3.7-million expenditure, saying it was “overbuilt” because it was the first general membership meeting in 25 years.

“We didn’t know what to expect…we had to go overboard to make sure it was done right,” he said, insisting this past spring’s binding arbitration general meeting was a “fraction of the cost.”

He promised to get me the actual cost of the latest general meeting — as well as the current staff count — before my deadline. But nothing ever came.

As of July, the OMA had 248 full-time and nine part-time staff, many of whom do a great a job of “obstructing bureaucracy,” says Gill.

“These staffers are very powerful… some have been there for decades and they get paid very well,” adds Mark D’Souza, an ER physician, who along Gill, were the first to resign their seats as district council chairmen in early July over what they saw as lack of accountability at the OMA.

Gill says in the past four years, they’ve paid more than $200-million in dues to while the OMA has “passively stood by” watching the health ministry unilaterally cut $3.5-billion from patient services doctors provide and pass a number of bills that vilify doctors.

D’Souza says he suspects the OMA will not be fighting for fee increases, either, to make up for the proposed federal tax reforms that could change the way doctors are permitted to retain earnings.

The lack of transparency over finances has also been a bitter pill to swallow for 15-year physician Deron Brown, who resigned his council seat in late July.

After vowing to dig deeper into OMA finances, he’s come to conclusion they are “aimless” when it comes to representing physicians’ best interests, but not so when it comes to their own best interests.

“I’m certainly getting the sense there is a lack of transparency and vagueness in terms of disclosure,” he said, pegging a big part of the problem on the fact that their dues are mandatory and there is “no open competition” for doctor representation.

Whatley, who spoke to me while in the midst of his $310,000 fall road show to update members, promised to report to membership in November on a “very thorough” operational review now being done by an outside management consulting firm (he wouldn’t name the firm).

“It’s a top to bottom look through the organization…it’s like having someone go through your closet in your house,” said the new president, whose salary is also secret to members.

“It’s quite stressful on the organization…I’m really proud of the whole team for agreeing to this,” he repeated more than once, sticking to his talking points.

“The OMA will look and feel completely different in the next six to nine months… we’re in the midst of a massive turnaround,” he added.

Gill said she’s heard this all before especially when PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was hired last fall to review the events surrounding the failed contract and ended up presenting a “non-forensic review” — particularly a timeline leading up to the vote.

“OMA is 137-year-old bureaucracy that has no watchdog,” she says. “Ontario’s doctors demand a fully independent forensic review… independent eyes are desperately needed to come in and clean up the utter mess that exists in the OMA.”

SLevy@postmedia.com

THE OMA WHITE ELEPHANT

A snapshot of spending in 2016

  • Amount taken in from membership dues: $50.5-M
  • Total revenue (includes physician insurance): $67.9-M
  • Total amount spent: $74.7-M
  • Deficit: $6.7-M
  • Amount spent on execs: $9.2-M
  • Amount spent on administration: $13.3-M
  • Amount spent on negotiations: $4.2-M
  • % of revenue spent on exec salaries and admin: 37%
  • % of dues spent on negotiations: 6%
  • Rent payment: $2.4-million (penthouse at 150 Bloor St. W., and 393 University Ave.)

MEETING EXPENSES

  • General Meeting of Members (Aug. 14/16)
  • Total cost: $3.7-million

Includes:

  • Rental of Allstream Centre (security/AV/childcare): $346,568
  • Catering: $397,943 (for 586 delegates)
  • Communications (Navigator): $284,080
  • Honoraria (for board members): $58,446
  • Negotiation roadshows and Teletown halls: $310,459
  • OMA Council meeting (twice a year)
  • Total cost per meeting: $521,425

Includes:

  • Honoraria for council and board: $274,369

— Sue-Ann Levy

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