The Google search engine connecting a reader to the Soapbox spat out this query: “Is Fred Horne as stupid as he looks?” Yikes! That’s bit harsh. But I must admit the question had crossed my mind (without the reference to Mr Horne’s looks—Ms Soapbox tries to maintain a modicum of decorum on the blog).
Short answer? No, Mr Horne is not stupid. Quite the opposite. He’s a master at manipulating the media to achieve his objectives. Consider what he’s accomplished over the past month.
The Puppet Master
It started when Mr Horne whipped the public into a pitchfork frenzy over the AHS Board’s decision to pay “bonuses” to senior AHS staff and then sacked the AHS Board for refusing to breach its contractual obligations.
Unbeknownst to us, Mr Horne effectively signed off on the “bonuses” at the same time he was condemning the recalcitrant AHS Board—his Accountability Statement attached to the 2012-2013 Annual Report and Financial Statements indicating payment of $637,000 in at-risk compensation is dated June 19, 2013.
Apparently his newly appointed Official Administrator managed to do something a flotilla of lawyers were unable to do—she convinced him that the payments had to be made. (Or, and this is more likely, he knew the lawyers were right but used the bonuses as an excuse to oust the AHS board and pick up some brownie points with the public along the way).
Mr Horne press released his about-face late Friday, June 21, in the middle of the worst flooding disaster in Alberta’s history. Well executed from a PR perspective.
The Puppet Master Goes Silent
A good public relations consultant knows when to engage the media and when to go to ground. Mr Horne’s communications team pulled a master stroke when it learned that the AHS accumulated a $106,391,000 surplus for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013.
Instead of shouting it from the rooftops, the normal PR response to a good news story, Mr Horne said absolutely nothing. The Financial Statements* simply materialized on the Health Department’s website.
Why the radio silence?
The 2012-2013 Annual Report and Financial Statements
It’s very simple really. By acknowledging the existence of the $100 million surplus Mr Horne exposes himself to some very difficult questions.
Where did the surplus come from? Did the AHS discover innovative ways to deliver healthcare? If so the AHS executives deserved their bonuses and the AHS board should not have been fired. If not, did the AHS engage in a needless slash and burn program?
Heather Smith, president of the United Nurses of Alberta, articulated her concern: “If they’re posting a surplus of this size, why are they continuing to cut services to some of the most vulnerable citizens of Alberta?” **
Mr Horne responded in true PR fashion. The $100 million surplus is negligible, three days of operating costs at the most. However viewed from another PR perspective, the $100 million will pay for 1000 full time RNs for a full year.*** Over to you Fred.
Landmines for the Puppet Master
Ms Soapbox’s antenna shot up when it became apparent that the Puppet Master did not want Albertans looking at the “good news” Annual Report (nothing to see here ma’am, move along), so she spent a couple of hours plowing through its turgid prose. She has many questions. For example:
In these tough economic times why is Mr Horne’s ministry over budget by $16,040,000? And why did these overages come out of the two departments focused on strategy? (p 97). Come to think of it, what exactly did the Department of Policy Development & Strategic Support and the Strategic Corporate Support departments do with $69.2 million?
Given the chaotic state of healthcare in Alberta—privatization by stealth, queue jumping, out of control wait times and flawed governance–why don’t we just scrap these departments and save ourselves the $69.2 million. That would be enough to hire an additional 700 RNs for another year.
And while we’re on the topic of mega payouts to AHS executives…Who is Andrew Will, Executive VP and Executive Lead Transition, and why was he paid a whopping $1,267,000 last year? Mr Will’s title suggests that he was in charge of transitioning. Apparently he “transitioned” himself right out of a job and walked away with $738,000 in severance (p 163). If Mr Horne was prepared to breach 99 AHS employment contracts to avoid paying $637,000 why didn’t he breach this one as well?
The Puppet Master Exposed
Dr Maybaum, a leading patient advocate, has harsh words for Mr Horne and the firing of the AHS Board. He says that without the AHS Board to act as a buffer “…we now have a situation in which unbridled political interference, lobbying and toadying to cronies can run unchecked in AHS …I cannot underscore and emphasize enough that every Albertan, regardless of political affiliation must wake up to this Orwellian reality.” ****
Albertans can no longer let the government pull the wool over their eyes by manipulating the media. Mr Horne’s attempt to bury the 2012-13 Annual Report to avoid accountability for massive layoffs in a time of surplus and cover up the gross ineptitude of his ministry is cause for termination. Let’s call him on it. It’s time to send an email to Ms Redford Alison.firstname.lastname@example.org with a copy to Fred Horne email@example.com demanding Mr Horne’s resignation.
This is your wake-up call.
**UNA Press Release July 3, 2013
*** David Climenhaga, commenting on Whitemud Citizens for Public Health Facebook page
****Vital Signs July 2013