'I wasn't rocking the boat': PC MLA 1st to take advantage of public Health PEI board meeting

Progressive Conservative MLA and health critic Sidney MacEwen called in to Island Morning Wednesday to recount his adventure of attending a public board meeting of Health PEI.

Sidney MacEwen says he was allowed to attend only a small part of meeting

The Health PEI AGM is well publicized, but PC health critic Sidney MacEwen would like to see better access to Health PEI's monthly meetings. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

Progressive Conservative MLA and health critic Sidney MacEwen called in to Island Morning Wednesday to recount his adventure of attending a public board meeting of Health PEI.

MacEwen's visit to the Health PEI boardroom on Tuesday was prompted by a debate in the legislature in December.

MacEwen had asked Rob Henderson, who was P.E.I.'s Health Minister until a cabinet shuffle Wednesday, why the board meetings weren't open, and Henderson said the board had to deal with very complex and controversial issues.

Health PEI later told CBC News that the monthly meetings were, in fact, open to the public.

So MacEwen called Health PEI to arrange to attend the next meeting, which was Tuesday. He said he's the first member of the public to attend a Health PEI board meeting.

Initial confusion

MacEwen said when he called Health PEI he was told the meeting would run all day, with the public portion from 10 to 11 a.m.

He turned up a little before 10, and said he was asked if he was presenting, and told the receptionist said no, he was just there to observe. He said he was directed up to the boardroom where, finding the door closed, he knocked.

MacEwen says 'there was a bit of a confusion' when he showed up to observe Tuesday's Health PEI board meeting. (Alastair MacCormack/CBC News)

Board chair Phyllis Horne answered the knock, and again asked him if he was presenting, and again he said no, he was there just to observe.

"There was a bit of a confusion there at that point, a lot of people looking at each other wondering what to do," MacEwen said.

"Phyllis was quite nice and said, 'You know what. We're just in camera right now. Just give me a few minutes and I'll come back out and talk to you.'"

They let him in at 10:15, he said.

'A new experience'

MacEwen said the meeting started like most board meetings would. The minutes and agenda were read and approved. Conflicts were declared, and then the board watched a YouTube video of a patient's experience at a hospital in Saskatchewan.

There was an update on the search for a new CEO, brief committee reports, and then a longer divisional update from the quality and safety committee.

"You could tell … it was a new experience for them to have somebody else in the room but they got quite comfortable eventually. I wasn't rocking the boat. I was just listening," MacEwen said.

After the quality and safety committee presentation, MacEwen said he made a request to ask a question. The chair said yes and allowed a follow-up, but then said it was time to move on.

When the in-camera portion of meeting started, MacEwen said he noticed it included a presentation on the mental health strategy from Verna Ryan, Health PEI's CAO of mental health and addictions services.

"I asked what portion of the policy said that that had to be in-camera," MacEwen said.

"Mental health is a big topic and that strategy is already public. They had told me that when the agenda and the minutes for this meeting were published it would explain why certain things had to be in-camera."

And then he left.

Making meetings more accessible

MacEwen said while he was welcomed at the meeting, it took some effort on his part to find the time and place, and the room was really too small to accommodate many members of the public.

In an email to CBC News, Health PEI said it was exploring the possibility of making the meetings more accessible.

"The board's public engagement sub-committee is exploring how best to address public interest in attending a meeting for the sake of observing," the email said.

"As part of this work, the sub-committee will be taking into consideration the protocols and practices followed by other jurisdictions before making a recommendation to the board for a decision."

MacEwen said he was pleased this work is being done.

"I think it's fantastic they're looking into it and it's too bad it had to take something like this to make it happen," he said.

MacEwen said while published minutes include a lot of what happens at the meetings, he added the board, when he was there, was quite engaged in the process. That discussion is missing from the minutes, he said, and it would be good for the public to see.

With files from Island Morning