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Doctors demand hospital CEO’s resignation

Forty doctors have written a letter to Whitehorse General Hospital CEO Michael Aeberhardt demanding his resignation.

Forty doctors have written a letter to Whitehorse General Hospital CEO Michael Aeberhardt demanding his resignation.

The letter’s existence was revealed in the legislature on Thursday by Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.

Mitchell could not produce the letter, and the News was unable to obtain a copy.

But Health Minister Brad Cathers did not deny its existence.

“This was, I believe, a confidential letter between doctors and the CEO of the hospital,” said Cathers in the house.

This damning revelation capped a troubling week for Cathers and the beleaguered Aeberhardt.

This week, the two men have come under intense fire for a slew of issues including their poor communication and leadership skills.

The most damning criticism came from Marny Ryder, a former hospital board chair who participated in Aeberhardt’s hiring.

“There have been so many problems bubbling to the surface over the past few years and they’re not the kind of problems you can tamp down,” Ryder told reporters on Wednesday.

“I am so distressed right now to see this crumbling.”

The Liberals appointed Ryder to the board in 2002.

 “Crises,” such as nurse shortages and a lack of patient beds, that have surfaced recently are just the “tip of the iceberg,” said Ryder.

“And it’s been the tip of the iceberg for two or three years — insufficient funding, poor communication — it’s all just bubbled up,” she said.

Infighting between doctors and Aeberhardt is “distressing,” said Ryder who sat on the CEO’s selection committee early in the process.

“I have no doubt that he’s a very competent CEO,” said Ryder. “For me, the major problem with Mr. Aeberhardt is that he has no commitment whatsoever to the Yukon.

“Mr. Aeberhardt made it very clear from the beginning that he is here for three years and this is a stepping-stone to other things.

“I don’t think that shows commitment and I think the staff knows that and the doctors know that.”

After question period, Cathers refused to be interviewed on the doctor’s letter demanding that Aeberhardt resign.

Premier Dennis Fentie fielded questions on Cathers’ behalf.

But he refused to comment on the letter.

“Letters to the CEO aren’t our business — that’s between the doctors that wrote the letter and the CEO himself,” Fentie told reporters.

There are problems with every health-care system, said Fentie.

“If there is unrest in the hospital corporation the appropriate process is for the board to bring it forward to the government.”

The board tried to bring its issues to Cathers, but he wasn’t always available to listen, said Ryder.

“The hospital has been in deep financial trouble for years — it’s always been in deep financial trouble,” she said.

“There’s no money to pay the benefits of permanent staff.”

During Ryder’s four years as board chair she brought concerns about the hospital budget’s shortfall to the government several times, she said.

“The operating deficits continued to occur without any discussions of the base budget taking place,” Ryder wrote in her board resignation letter dated November 12, 2006.

“This was difficult to comprehend when federal funding, especially in the health field, reached record high levels.”

The board had a good working relationship with the government until Cathers was appointed Health minister, Ryder told reporters.

“We worked very well with Peter Jenkins and when he left the relationship started to go downhill.”

The descent hasn’t stopped.

For example, the board and hospital corporation spent time and money planning to remake the Thomson Centre as an alcohol- and drug-treatment centre, said Ryder.

Then Cathers announced the building would be used as a continuing-care home.

“Neither the board, nor senior management at the hospital were told of the government’s change in plans until they read it in the newspaper,” said Ryder.

The board and the government could not even agree who owned the building.

The Yukon government owned the Thomson Centre, but transferred it to the board, said Ryder.

“Why would we spend almost three years working on plans for an alcohol- and drug-treatment centre?

“We would not have expended that kind of effort” if we didn’t own the building, she said.

Today, Cathers insists the Yukon government owns the building.

“The Thomson Centre is a Yukon government asset,” Cathers told the legislature. “It is not owned by the hospital.”

“I find it frustrating to have to sit there and listen to everything that was said and not say, ‘But you’re wrong,’” said Ryder.

The government also did not inform the board of Craig Tuton’s appointment as chair until it was broadcast on the radio in September 2006, said Ryder.

Tuton, as current board chair, “short-circuited” the hiring process and ensured that Aeberhardt got the job even though he was not the first choice, said Mitchell.

“Before the job could be offered to the top candidate, the chair of the board, who happens to be the former Yukon Party campaign manager, intervened and selected the person who is now the CEO,” Mitchell told the house.

No matter what question was asked about the hospital, both Fentie and Cathers replied with the same lines.

They told the opposition and reporters that the government has increased funding to the facility.

“This government has taken the investment in that hospital corporation from a mere $18 million to $33 million under our watch,” said Fentie.

And that the government stepped in to bail out the hospital corp.’s pension fund.

The corporation decided to take a “contribution holiday on the employers’ contribution, which contributed to the insolvency issue,” said Fentie.

The corporation was told to stop the contribution holidays in 2002.

However they continued in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Was the premier blaming the board for the pension shortfall?

“No, I didn’t say that at all,” said Fentie. “This is not blame, it’s a demonstration of the minister and the government stepping up and acting appropriately to make sure there is not a problem.”

Aeberhardt was out of town and not available for comment.