“We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.”
— John Naisbitt, American author
Want to read the latest inspection report for your child’s daycare centre? Other provinces post such information online, but not Newfoundland and Labrador. Nor do we post nursing home inspection reports. — Thinkstock photo
The provincial government’s Office of Public Engagement was unveiled with fanfare during a cabinet shuffle just over a year ago, on Oct. 19, 2012.
Its goals are laudable:
“(It) will ensure every department can launch effective, targeted and interactive public consultations, including social media and rich information resources,” said Premier Kathy Dunderdale.
“The office will build on the existing strengths of current functions and co-ordinate the efforts of departments to increase access to information resources. It is a clear demonstration of our commitment to open, accountable and transparent government which includes pro-active disclosure of information to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
It has met that mandate in some ways — certainly no one can accuse the government of not holding public consultations (though whether they are the best way to garner public input is a subject worthy of debate; ask yourself: have you ever attended one? If not, why?).
The Office of Public Engagement has also posted some information online that was not easily accessible before: restaurant inspection reports (something the media had been pressing for for years prior); bridge inspection reports (again, thanks to media requests); orders in council (ditto); completed access to information reports (often based on media requests).
There’s a host of documents available for your perusal on the Public Engagement website.
But when it comes to being proactive in its disclosure — for all its protestations that it is committed to being so — our province is trailing others when it comes to providing information that could affect the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable citizens.
Daycare due diligence
Some provinces, like Ontario, post daycare inspection reports online.
As CBC News in Windsor, Ont. reported on May 9, 2011: “The reports show whether there are enough staff and proper supervision at the centre. It will show whether a daycare stores medication and food properly. The centres are also judged on cleanliness and the safety of any equipment or furnishings and whether the centres conduct monthly fire drills.”
Why did Ontario make the information available?
“We believe this is important information for families to have when choosing where they may want to investigate having their children go,” said then education minister Leona Dombrosky.
We don’t have access to that information here.
“Currently, reports from annual assessments and inspection reports for child-care centres located in Newfoundland and Labrador are not available online,” said a spokeswoman for Child, Youth and Family Services. “However, child-care centres do receive a copy of these reports.”
Somehow I can’t see parents scouting for an appropriate daycare going around and asking to see inspection reports.
For the past two weeks I’ve been writing about long-term care, and there’s a similar lack of information available to the public in that regard.
It’s not that I’m hoping to find infractions — I’ve just been looking for the kind of information readily available in other provinces; things like online inspection reports from nursing homes, and satisfaction surveys from long-term care staff, residents and family members.
All about transparency
Saskatchewan recently reviewed its nursing homes and publicized the results in a report that highlights examples of excellent care as well as areas where improvement is needed.
When contacted by The Telegram, Saskatchewan Health Minister Dustin Duncan was candid about why his province felt the need to conduct such a sweeping review:
“We had heard concerns about the state of seniors care in a number of ways,” he wrote via email.
“There were issues raised during previous reviews of the health system. … There were also concerns raised to my ministry and through the legislature. … The issues being raised varied from region to region and facility to facility. In some facilities, the quality and variety of the meals were a big issue. In others, staffing levels and care concerns were top of mind for people. We also heard concerns about safety, aging infrastructure and resident mix (meaning having older, fragile residents living alongside younger residents).
“I felt it was necessary for the (health authority) CEOs to take a good look at the facilities under their watch and get a sense of what is working for residents, families and staff within special care homes and what isn’t.”
Why did Saskatchewan make the findings public?
“Our goal was to be as transparent as possible,” Duncan said.
“We want the people who took the time and had the courage to share their concerns to see that we’re paying attention and we’re committed to addressing these problems. The trend is certainly moving toward increased transparency in the area of seniors care, and if we were to do another review of this nature, we would likely go a similar route.”
This fall, Duncan said the government of Saskatchewan will introduce amendments to legislation that would permit the public reporting of inspection results of privately operated personal care homes.
“Increased transparency will help the public when selecting a home and it will also provide increased incentive for operators to provide the best care possible,” he said.
When it comes to information about personal care homes and long-term care facilities on the Office of Public Engagement’s website, look under “Proactive Disclosures” and you’ll find listings, complete with addresses and phone numbers.
Frankly, I could find that much in the phone book.
Now, our provincial government may point out that there are other provinces that don’t post nursing home and daycare centre inspection reports online either.
But why can’t we — if not lead the way — at least be quick to follow?
Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email email@example.com.
Office of Public Engagement Proactive disclosures