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Monday Morning Commentary

Rick Swenson

Over the last two weeks, there has been an ongoing saga of dismissals for cause and without cause at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. The latest casualty was the President who was only hired two years ago from McMaster University in Ontario. Dr. Gordon Barnhart, Saskatchewan’s former Lieutenant Governor, is now the Acting President of the U of S. You could not get a more capable person that Dr. Barnhart. I knew him when he was Clerk of the Saskatchewan Legislature where he ran a very competent Clerk’s Office and interacted with elected members on a very friendly and professional basis. I believe all of us wish him well in trying to straighten out the mess at the U of S.

The University of Saskatchewan, we are told, has large budgetary items to deal with. This budgetary deficit has been growing for some time. Much of the turmoil at the institution is centred around the proposed management plan which was put forward in the last couple of years to deal with these projected budgetary deficits. It seems that there has been a total lack of meaningful consultation with all of the vested interests around the U of S and then finally, people have said “enough is enough” and have taken their concerns public.

This is usually what happens when someone tries to shove something down the throat of people in institutions without a sense of buy in by those folks. Dr. Barnhart has his work cut out for him in trying to get all of the people back into the tent so that the problems can be dealt with in a reasonable manner.

I don’t know if it is coincidence or not but it seems to me that most of these “budgetary issues” around the U of S have become problematic since the Sask Party government announced that a new Children’s Hospital would be attached to RUH on the University campus. This hospital has yet to be built. There are significant issues with current infrastructure and there are huge costs around the College of Medicine and other health care disciplines at the U of S. In fact the College of Medicine’s ability to maintain its accreditation has come into question and its ability to train doctors for the future of our province.

Directly across the river from the U of S campus sits City Hospital which until very recently was the newest hospital in the province. This hospital is now half full of offices for the health district. City Hospital was controversial when it was built. I know this from sitting around the Cabinet table when the decision was made to go ahead and provide Saskatoon and area with a third hospital. City Hospital unfortunately gained a reputation of being a facility where patient care was not up to the mark and where numerous patients received long-term infections after surgery and therefore became a place which health care professionals didn’t feel comfortable working in. Much of this has been debated openly in the public for years.
Those are all issues that proper management can rectify. If there was too much open access by visitors to the institution and therefore an inability to maintain the proper cleanliness than that is a management issue not a medical one.

So the question must be asked….why would we be building a new Children’s Hospital on the U of S campus which is obviously putting huge financial strains on the U of S? Why is it being built in a place which has significant physical and engineering challenges to fit in with current structures when we have a totally modern facility directly across the river being totally under utilized for its intended purposes?

Is this another case of the wishes of certain politicians and their influential friends wanting to create legacy projects for themselves rather than dealing with the day-to-day medical needs of Saskatchewan’s citizens and in this particular case, our children? It will be very interesting to see if Dr. Barnhart and the board of directors of the U of S will have the freedom to lay out all of the issues surrounding the U of S and its deficit problems. This whole thing has the smell of government interference hanging over its head. That is why Professor Buckingham in his role as Dean of the U of S School of Public Health finally came forward and said “enough is enough”. Maybe he should not have written letters to the NDP Opposition. Perhaps he should have resigned his position as Dean before he made such a move but the fact of the matter is that he and many other professionals at the U of S have finally decided to put their own careers on the line to make sure that there is a public discussion on what is transpiring there.

For years now, southern Saskatchewan has suffered because of the former NDP government’s decision to close the Plains Hospital on the southern outskirts of Regina. Southern Saskatchewan has desperately needed that third institution. Saskatoon has three hospitals – only uses 2½ and people from all over northern Saskatchewan are told to come in and use this dysfunctional system. Would it not have made more sense to sort out the roles of the three hospitals in Saskatoon before plunking down a new stand-alone facility in the middle of an already over crowded and under-funded U of S campus? We are all now starting to reap the whirlwind of what I believe are some bad decisions by bureaucrats and politicians about our basic medical needs.

I am a proud alumni of the U of S and it is truly heart breaking to see this fine institution in the state of disrepute that it is today.

Your feedback is welcome on anything you see in the Monday Morning Commentary. Please send your comments to contact @pcsask.ca. If you know of anyone that would be interested in receiving this by email, please forward me their email address. Also – don’t forget to check out our website at pcsask.ca.

These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.

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