Ethics

JUMPING THE QUEUE?

A fundraising campaign promises to give donors better access to health care

KATHERINE MACKLEM October 6 2003
Ethics

JUMPING THE QUEUE?

A fundraising campaign promises to give donors better access to health care

KATHERINE MACKLEM October 6 2003

JUMPING THE QUEUE?

Ethics

A fundraising campaign promises to give donors better access to health care

KATHERINE MACKLEM

IF YOU THOUGHT medicare meant equal access for all, think again. A private club for smart Bay Street types has launched a fundraising campaign that is, at best, dubious. The Cambridge Club, one of Canada’s few remaining old boy’s clubs—it’s for men only—wants to donate money to two clinics at Mount Sinai Hospital. So far, so grand. The sticky point lies in a promise to members that, unlike the general public, they won’t have to wait their turn for medical attention. In Canada, that’s a no-no—buying a spot at the front of the line hasn’t been permitted ever since public health care became part of the Canadian reality more than 40 years ago.

There’s more. In a letter soliciting contributions of $10 a month, the club’s charity committee declares donations will be tax deductible and that a receipt will be issued to club members. Again, the law is clear: money that gets a benefit in return—even one as distasteful as queue-jumping—can’t be considered a gift and so, of course, there can be no receipt. A donation that gets someone to the head of a medical lineup would not be an allowable deduction, says Dawna LaBonté, spokeswoman for Revenue Canada. And, she adds ominously, a charity such as Mount Sinai Hospital could lose its charitable status if it’s not following the rules.

The Cambridge Club, where annual fees are about $2,000 and a member can easily run up a monthly tab of $1,000, caters to Toronto’s business elite in what it dubs an oasis-type setting.

A hospital official says guarantees made in the letter ‘might have been a bit overzeaSous’

BUYING a spot at the front of the line hasn’t been permitted in Canada for more than 40 years

Wood panelling, white linen and hushed conversation are as much a part of the trademark as are its fitness and spa facilities. Among club members are Canada’s richest man, Ken Thomson, and investment-industry heavyweights such as Don Johnson of BMO Nesbitt Burns and Jack Curtin Jr. of Goldman Sachs. There are senators—Michael Meighen, Jerry Grafstein— and a lot of lawyers, including the chairman of the club’s charity committee, Barry Grant. The brain power of this crowd has contributed to Canada’s biggest business deals and has made millionaires out of many club members.

In his letter asking for funds for the Murray Koffler Urologie Wellness Centre and the S.C. Cooper Sports Medicine Clinic, Grant promises members they “will get direct access

to the clinic rather than waiting with the general public.” The letter explains that Cambridge members will be guaranteed access to an orthopaedic surgeon within 24 hours of a diagnosis at the clinic “rather than the weeks or months that it would normally take a patient.” Last week, Grant told Maclean’s club members would “get priority as to being able to get in to see Dr. Taylor.” Ron Taylor, famous for his work with the Toronto Blue Jays, runs the Cooper Sports Clinic two nights a week. The clinic, while funded by private donations, is open to all, and any medical attention is covered by the province. Taylor promises, says Grant, to bump Cambridge Club members to the head of the queue.

But that, in fact, won’t happen, assures Nicholas Offord, president of the Mount Sinai Foundation. The clinic is an afterhours diagnostic centre, he says, and club members will have to make appointments like everyone else. As well, “a candidate for surgery would have to get onto the normal waiting list,” Offord says. His explanation? “The author of the letter might have been a bit overzealous.” Or misleading. Roy Romanow, Canada’s public health champion, says proposals like Cambridge’s undermine the fundamental principle that access to health care is based on need, and suggest that “if you’ve got money, you are able to jump the queue and get better, faster care.” Romanow, who last week received a prestigious award from the Pan American Health Organization for his contribution to Canada’s health system, added: “It’s a hugely unfortunate and undesirable development.” Doubtful, too, whether it’s true charity. 171