Patterson keeps his cards close to his vest

The new chair of the Baffin health board wants to meet with the rest of the board before he says anything about how he plans to tackle the job.


Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT The new chair of Baffin’s regional health board isn’t ready yet to say just what he thinks about recent board decisions.

After only a week on the job, Dennis Patterson told a boardroom of journalists Monday that he has no “hard and fast opinions” on issues that have caused a public outcry recently in the Baffin region.

“I haven’t solved all the problems yet, in the first week,” he told reporters in Iqaluit.

Patterson was appointed interim chair of the board last week, filling a position left vacant by Ann Hanson, who resigned last month amid a flurry of public controversy.

Recent board decisions to transfer medical specialists services from Montreal to Ottawa and to reject the use of private money to construct a new hospital have brought the board under public scrutiny.

Patterson said Baffin leaders who support his appointment suggested solving these issues should be his main objective.

No marching orders from Ng

He said, though, that he was given no “marching orders” to that effect from NWT Health Minister Kelvin Ng when he accepted the one-year term.

“He didn’t provide me with any direction or instructions,” Patterson said. “It’s clear he’s going to respect the views of the board.”

The press conference, while light on details about where Patterson stands on these issues, was an attempt by the new chair to open lines of communications between the board and the public.

“It’s no secret that there have been concerns expressed in the public regarding the board’s decision-making process,” he said. “It’s not so much the decisions, but the rationale and thought that went into making the decisions.”

He said board staff has already begun to work on a communication strategy.

“It’s a common-sense matter that has my high attention,” Patterson said. “It obviously can be improved upon.”

Meets with QC president

Patterson has also begun to heal the relationship between Qikiqtaaluk Corporation and the board. That relationship broke down in September when the board rejected the Inuit birthright corporation’s offer to help finance the construction of a new hospital.

Patterson, who suggested the board hasn’t rejected the offer outright, met with Qikiqtaaluk Corp’s president Jerry Ell last week about the financing proposal.

“I’m confident we can develop a good working relationship to take advantage of their goodwill and good intentions,” he said, cautiously adding it’s up to the board to decide whether to pursue a deal.

“Where that will lead is dependent on the direction the board takes.”

He didn’t rule out the role the newly-established hospital foundation will have in fund raising.

“I don’t think we should settle them with impossible burdens,” Patterson said. “It’s one tool that can be used effectively, but it’s certainly not the only one.”

No long-term deal with Ottawa yet

Another sensitive issue among Baffin residents is the board’s decision to severe a 30-year tie with Montreal’s McGill program in favor of a partnership with Ottawa’s Heart Institute.

That decision was reviewed by the health department’s deputy minister, David Ramsden, in September. As a result, Ng has asked the board to complete a detailed cost analysis of the move before he’ll give it final approval.

“While direction has been given by the board, a long-term arrangement has yet to be put in place,” Patterson said of the Montreal to Ottawa move.

Patterson, who represented Iqaluit as MLA from 1979-95, also addressed criticisms that he’s now a Yellowknife resident.

“My plan on the longterm is to relocate myself here,” he said, adding he’s always “kept up with events” in the region.

Patterson said he’s anxious to get the job done.

“I see my appointment to deal with some of these major issues,” he said. “I’m not anxious to hold on to this job forever.”

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