The editorial staff of The Northern Pen for many years, one of the best community newspapers in the province has written an open letter to Health Minister Jerome Kennedy. It appears in today's edition.
Its a bold and brave letter, from a news outlet to which I have always accorded tremendous respect, since the days of Bern Bromley, who founded The Pen, and Allan Bock, who worked there for 27 years.
The papers current editor is Aaron Beswick, a capable young man about whom Ive already heard good things. (Seriously. Two readers sent notes last year praising Beswick, one calling him bright, articulate and talented and the other saying he has improved the quality tremendously of the Pen, which is quite a statement given the strength of that paper.)
Beswick and his editorial team have been asking questions about the provincial governments move of the air ambulance service, from St. Anthony to Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
Most recently, reporter Emma Graney broke the story that, as late as September 2009, the health minister was planning to not just keep the service in St. Anthony, but was going to expand it. The only thing that changed since then was a by election, in which the Williams Government lost to the Liberals. Some people suggest the air ambulance move was executed as harsh punishment, to make an example of what happens to a district when it fails to toe the line.
That sounds totally outrageous, but if you line up the evidence (as I will do in a future post), it is hard to reach any other conclusion.
The Pen, it should be noted, did not make any such allegation in its open letter to the minister. However, they ask some pretty pointed questions, which, if answered, will shed some light on the truth behind this story.
The fact that an open letter is necessary is, in itself, an embarrassment to government, which has steadfastly refused interview requests for the last three months from the Pen. Its time the Minister grew some cojones and spoke with the newspaper, offering honest and direct answer to the questions listed below. Are they dodging these questions, and boycotting the Pen, because the truth would do serious harm to the Williams Government?
While you are reading the stories linked above, I suggest you stay a while, click a few links, and explore the paper. The Pen may be a small newspaper, but it continues to have a huge impact on the communities it serves.
Following is the complete text of The Pens letter to Jerome Kennedy:
An open letter to Health Minister Jerome Kennedy
(The following letter was sent to Minister of Health Jerome Kennedy by the editorial staff of the Northern Pen)
Dear Mr. Kennedy,
To date, you have not addressed the people of the Northern Peninsula about your decision to relocate the air ambulance to Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Time and time again, you have also chosen to not speak with the media about your decision. Repeated requests from the Northern Pen for an interview over the past three months have been denied.
The people have questions. We at the Northern Pen newspaper have questions. Yet, as an elected official who made a choice to take something from the people of Northern Newfoundland, you have refused to respond to us in person.
A joint discussion with the St. Anthony Mayor, Chamber of Commerce and the Concerned Citizens Committee last week raised a number of key concerns. Among these were:
1 - How can you base your decision to move the air ambulance on a report that does not include input from anyone who has anything to do with the running of the air ambulance service?
2 - How do you respond to allegations that the deaths mentioned in the report had nothing to do with the location of the air ambulance, but were the result of the dispatch process and the unavailability of a Medical Flight Service (MFS) team?
3 - What happened between September 14, 2009 and early March, 2010, that caused the Department of Health to backflip on plans to establish extra MFS crews in St. Anthony, and instead move the air ambulance service altogether?
4 - Why was the air ambulance moved before the hanger facility in Happy Valley-Goose Bay was ready?
5 - Have there been cases of delayed response times resulting from the air ambulance move? If so, what were the consequences to the patients of these delays?
6 - Why have Access to Information requests made to your department by the Northern Pen been more than 20 days late? One has still not arrived.
Mr. Kennedy, we would like answers. Not a written response, but a chance to discuss the issues in a similar fashion to the way other government ministers interact with the media.
We acknowledge that there is a court case, and perhaps you will be called to testify, but this is a recent development. You have refused our interview requests since early April. Why?
Staff of the Northern Pen