Thunder Bay upset it wasn't consulted on plan to give med school independence
SUDBURY -- It's been less than a week since it was announced the Northern Ontario School of Medicine was going to become an independent university, but some people say it may be the wrong move.
The decision was made by Ross Romano, the Minister of Colleges and Universities, who said in a statement the school is already largely independent of its two partner schools, Laurentian and Lakehead universities.
"The decision to include NOSM in the red tape bill also furthers our government’s mandate to reduce burdensome regulations and red tape," Romano added in a statement.
The surprise move caught many stakeholders off guard. Lakehead University president Moira McPherson wrote a letter to the minister in which she outlined her concerns. Even though she spoke with him on Tuesday, she's still waiting to have some of those fears addressed.
"We have not received any information from your office on what the severing of NOSM will entail," she wrote. "We are deeply concerned that we were only informed of this decision after it had already been made."
McPherson's letter said the partnership between the universities and NOSM has created significant cost-savings for the medical school.
"We have not received confirmation from your office that a NOSM campus will continue to serve the community (Thunder Bay), or even be located in northwestern Ontario," she added.
In an interview with CTV News, she said it was a shocking move wonders how it could have been done without consulting major stakeholders.
'We don't believe this is the right decision'
"At this point, our community, our university, and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people associated are sending their concerns about this decision and we don't believe this is the right decision," said McPherson.
Her position is being supported by Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro and city council, which voted this week to support the president and advocate for Lakehead wherever possible.
"I think people are trying to understand why this approach is being taken and what other medical schools are being separated from their institutions," Mauro said. "You know, we have a number of medical schools in Ontario, what's the distinction in the north that makes this imperative for the government?"
"The letter from the president and vice-chancellor was very strong in terms of the concerns that were expressed, in her language, a complete lack of consultation or any idea that this was being considered," he added.
The move comes amid Laurentian University's insolvency crisis.
While NOSM Dean Dr. Sarita Verma said there wasn't much she could say because of the CCAA process, she said nothing is changing for the medical school short of holding one convocation.
The announcement was even a surprise to her.
"We had been discussing with the government about the expansion of the medical school and we've been asking with the other faculties of medicine, especially for NOSM, to get more undergraduate positions and to build our residency programs so we have already been in discussion with them over funding," said Verma.
She said they discussed the Laurentian crisis with the government. NOSM stands to lose $1.6 million in tuition that she said they'll never see again because it was spent. They've also got about $14 million tied up in endowments.
Verma said it all adds up to about $20 million.
"We're at the top of the medical schools right now and recently had been through a really great accreditation, but the Laurentian situation puts the accreditation at risk because half of our degree is at risk," she said.
'We're not leaving the northwest'
"And, very unfortunately, the last few days, Dr. McPherson and Lakehead, mounting this campaign, which you know is well-intentioned to stop this process, but has come to the attention of the accreditors so it's put our medical school from an accreditation and now a financial situation very fragile."
Verma said NOSM has no plans to leave Thunder Bay and she's having a hard time understanding why "there's so much panic.
"We're not going to leave the north at all, we're not leaving the northwest, the northeast, we're not changing anything," she said. "We're hoping to continue with our very strong relationships at both Laurentian and Lakehead."
While there's not much of a formal plan yet, Verma said they are watching the situation closely to be able to respond to it.
A former lawyer and a doctor by trade, she said there's no sense right now in putting the 'cart before the horse.'
"There is no point in going and spending energy, time and money developing all kinds of things until the legislation is proclaimed in force," she said.
The Northern Ontario School of Medicine Act is currently being debated in the Legislature. There's no word yet when it might come up for a vote.