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Ontario hospitals to disclose executives’ salaries and perks on Tuesday

The salaries, perks and retirement benefits of most hospital CEOs and executives will be made public Tuesday under Ontario's freedom of information law.

Hospitals became subject to the law Jan. 1, so the Ontario Hospital Association advised its members to release executive contracts – along with board minutes, financial plans and other documents – by posting them on their websites.

"When universities became subject to FOI, one of the first things people wanted to see was executive contracts," said OHA president and chief executive officer Tom Closson.

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"Rather than waiting for requests to come in one at a time or hospital by hospital – we have 150 hospitals in Ontario – we thought it would make the most sense to proactively disclose these contracts."

Those in the public sector paid more than $100,000 a year already have their salaries disclosed on the so-called sunshine list, but there are plenty of details in the contracts that haven't been made public.

"What's in the person's contract in terms of any post-retirement kind of arrangements or anything that wouldn't show up in the sunshine law, even what the clause would be if the person was fired without cause, what compensation they would get for that," said Mr. Closson.

The Progressive Conservatives said big salaries for executives at Ornge, the province's air-ambulance system, and the billion-dollar scandal at eHealth Ontario over untendered contracts and expense abuses show every health-care dollar needs to be accounted for.

"We've just found what's happened under this government's nose with Ornge, we know what happened at eHealth, and this government certainly has not demonstrated much in the way of fiscal management or oversight," said Opposition critic Elizabeth Witmer.

"If you're going to restore public confidence in the health-care system, there needs to be transparency."

The Liberals included a line in last spring's provincial budget that gave hospitals an exemption from the FOI law for data on quality of care in hospitals, which the Ontario Health Coalition warned would allow hospitals to hide embarrassing information.

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NDP health critic France Gélinas said families who are affected by mistakes made in hospitals have a right to know exactly what went wrong, but they still won't be able to access that information.

"This troubles me greatly," said Ms. Gélinas.

"We have to get our heads out of the sand, realize that people who work in hospitals are people and they will make mistakes, and it's okay to learn from it and it's okay to share it with the family who live with the consequences of such mistakes."

But Mr. Closson said doctors, nurses and other staff need to be able to speak freely about difficult situations without worrying that what they said before a hospital committee would be made public.

"There is some sense that if people feel if there are minutes or charts, analysis of things that they're involved in, that it may come back on them from a liability perspective," he said.

Some hospital CEOs in Ontario are paid between $600,000 and $700,000, but the New Democrats want those pay scales capped at $418,000 a year, or double the premier's salary.

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A province facing a $16-billion deficit that wants to trim health care spending increases to 3 per cent a year from more than double that figure needs hospital administrators that can help make an already efficient system even better, said Mr. Closson.

"The compensation cap that's proposed by the NDP is quite arbitrary and is based on politics rather than on trying to attract and retain effective leaders," he said.

"This would be totally the wrong time to be capping CEO salaries."

The NDP will watch closely Tuesday to make sure hospitals release documents with real figures as opposed to saying things like an executive member's hotel or mileage allowance is within the industry average, said Ms. Gélinas.

"If you're going to show transparency, scan the document and put it online," she said.

"If I see anything short of this, then we still have a lot of work to do to make them realize that this is our taxpayers' dollars and they haven't done a good job with it."

Ultimately, the OHA hopes being subject to freedom of information will improve public confidence in their hospitals by making the institutions more transparent and accountable.

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