Sudbury·Special Report

Sudbury hospital spends thousands on marketing expenses

Documents obtained by CBC through Freedom of Information requests shows Health Sciences North spent $48,000 to host five public forums last year, as well as $15,000 on a promotional video.
A woman asks a question at a Health Sciences North public forum held in January. The hospital spent $48,000 on the series of five events, including $21,000 on guest speakers. (Erik White/CBC)
CBC reporter Erik White shares what he learned from freedom of information requests about how much the Sudbury hospital spends on public forums, promotional videos and other expenditures Health Sciences North calls "community engagement."

Sudbury's hospital has spent thousands to hold public events and make promotional videos, according to documents obtained by CBC News through freedom of information laws.

But a spokesperson for Health Sciences North said it is the hospital's job to provide "community engagement" as well as health care.

Health Sciences North is holding its latest in a series of public forums tonight in Sudbury.

The hospital spent $48,643 to host the last five forums, but did recover $23,353 by having other agencies — like the Maison Vale Hospice and the Northern Cancer Foundation — chip in. It also charged businesses to set up booths at the public events. 

Among the specific expenses for the five evening events were $21,247 to pay the guest speakers, $10,409 to promote the public forums and $5,791 in refreshments.

The documents also show Health Sciences North paid $15,000 for a two and a half minute video on its strategic plan, with English and French versions.

In partnership with the Health Sciences North Foundation and the Northern Cancer Foundation, the hospital also produced and circulated a $24,000 magazine featuring articles about Health Sciences North.

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This magazine featuring information and articles about Health Sciences North was distributed around Sudbury this summer. The hospital says it cost about $24,000 to produce, but it expects those costs to be covered through "fundraising revenues." (Erik White/CBC)
Hospital Spokesman Dan Lessard said these should not be seen as promotional expenses.

"That is not marketing or promotion the way you're trying to promote some product. That is community engagement, saying 'What do you think of what we're doing?'" he said.

"We use that video in physician recruitment, we use that when we're talking to donors, we use that when we're speaking to the community about where we're going as an institution. It is there for that purpose because, by law, we are obliged to do community outreach."

France Gelinas, the Nickel Belt MPP and NDP health critic, thought the public forums were a great way for the hospital to engage the public.

But she was a little surprised by the bill.

"I would expect them to do this as cheaply as humanly possible and really show a respect for the taxpayers' money."

Gelinas pointed out that the money spent on these five events could have covered someone's salary for a year.

"Couldn't we have had one more of, and name a whole bunch: a dietary worker, a cleaning staff, a work clerk, a whole bunch of people?"

The bargaining unit chair for the Ontario Nurses Association at Health Sciences North said she wasn't sure if that money could be moved to help front line care.

But Kelly Latimer did say that nurses have been asked to suggest possible places to save money in their departments, as the hospital looks for ways to balance its budget.

Latimer said some of her members are likely anxious about possible layoffs, but she is waiting for a meeting in two weeks time, when management is expected to share more details about the plan for balancing the books.

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