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Regrets About Poorly Managed ADHD Donation

Posted Jan 30 2012 8:25am

In a follow up to a previous article By Pamela Fayerman of the Vancouver Sun I reposted here on my blog , Pamela has offered us an update on how mental health officials have expressed their regrets regarding the poorly handled attempted donation. Pamela wrote: “My article about the gaffe made by mental health experts who mishandled a multimillion dollar donation offer to BC Children’s Hospital has resulted in changes meant to prevent a repeat incident. Hospitals and health care agencies not involved in the case are also revisiting their policies and practices to ensure they’re fully accountable to donors. Theresa Kennedy, spokeswoman for the Provincial Health Services Authority, said a new policy has been put in place to ensure donors know where they stand at all times.

“Quite frankly, mental health has had little experience with donations like this, so there were no formal processes to do due diligence and proper follow up,” she said, adding now there is a firm procedure. The donor in this case is Don James, CEO of Deeley Harley-Davidson Canada. The story about the controversy behind his donation has drawn a record level of readers to this blog. It’s a fascinating tale because, let’s face it, how often do we hear about cash-starved health care agencies turning down multimillion dollar donations? Or business moguls like James being given the kind of run-around he was? Or about world-leading medical authorities resigning from important hospitals, as what happened in this case?  Professionals in health care and fund raising have been keenly observing the story. It is, after all, like a ”what-not-to-do-in-health-care-philanthropy” type of case study.

As Ron Dumouchelle, CEO of the  VGH/UBC Hospital Foundation  said: “That kind of money doesn’t come around everyday.” To recap, James offered $3.5 million (and as much as $5 million) to the Childrens Hospital attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) program in 2008. His offer stood over a three year period, but during that time, no one told him his gift wouldn’t be accepted. He was left dangling with no answers as to how – or – if his money would be used. He finally got fed up and took his donation elsewhere – to Lion’s Gate Hospital.

The debacle had serious ramifications for the hospital because it led, in part, to the departure of Dr. Margaret Weiss, one of the world’s foremost experts in pediatric and adult ADHD. Weiss, whose curriculum vitae is 30 pages long, was head of the hospital’s provincial ADHD program for the last decade. She had psychiatry privileges at Children’s for 20 years. Now she’s seeing patients in her home office while waiting to hear if she’ll get the job as head of an ADHD program at Lion’s Gate Hospital.

James wants his gift to be used for an all-ages ADHD treatment clinic so that children aren’t dropped as patients when they become adults. That’s what happens at Children’s Hospital which is why Weiss was so upset.  Click here to read a brilliant interview with Weiss’s mother,  the pioneer in ADHD research who inspired her daughter to pursue the same field. You’ll learn that many children with ADHD never “outgrow” the disorder. That’s why James wanted to make a donation to help extend services to kids and their families. That’s his goal at Lion’s Gate Hospital, but the first million dollars of the James donation will go towards construction of   a new mental health building.

I asked PHSA to give me its latest perspective on the situation. This is the written statement issued by Leslie Arnold, president of BC Mental Health and Addiction Services:

“The Provincial Health Services Authority and its agencies appreciate the support and generosity our donors have shown us throughout the years. We value our relationship with donors, and look for ways to ensure their wishes are met. Unfortunately, there are rare occasions where we are unable to meet their wishes.

“Such was the case recently when Deeley Harley-Davidson Canada CEO, Don James, offered to donate to an adult ADHD program at BC Mental Health and Addiction Services (BCMHAS). While there were initial discussions with BCMHAS staff regarding the potential program, we were unable to accept the donation because there was not a long-term funding source to maintain the service beyond the initial donation and the Provincial Health Services Authority does not have a mandate to treat adults with ADHD.

“We regret we did not communicate our decision to Mr. James in a timely manner. We are reviewing the details of the situation to ensure we improve our communications and procedures for dealing with stakeholders and donors. “An immediate action to result from this situation is that a policy has been implemented which states that all discussions with BCMHAS staff and potential donors will now be simultaneously directed to the BC Mental Health Foundation in addition to the President of BCMHAS.”

While Arnold’s statement is an acknowledgment of errors made, I’m not sure if the reference to “regret” is the same as an apology. More curious is the last paragraph which refers to the “new” policy stipulating that all discussions with donors must be directed to the foundation and to Arnold. In the case of the James donation, both Arnold and the foundation president were at meetings from the outset. Dumouchelle, of the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation, told me that after I broke the story, it reinforced the need for health professionals and others working in hospitals to communicate with their in-house fundraisers when donors contact them directly.

“Children’s Hospital Foundation did not appear to be in the loop. Ideally, it should have been. I’ve got to believe that if they were, it would have turned out differently,” he said. Grateful patients often want to show appreciation to the doctors and hospitals who’ve treated them well. There’s no formal process and no insistence that doctors getting such offers direct the donors to foundations. But as we’ve seen in the James case, it makes perfect sense to bring the professional fundraisers into the tent as well. Explains Dumouchelle: “We build good relationships and know how to make a business case. We play a good matchmaking role between donors and doctors. We know how to structure donations and how to take tax and other matters into consideration. Professional fundraisers employed by hospital foundations are good stewards for donors. They know how to recognize donors and to provide reports back to donors on how their money is being used, year after year, Dumouchelle notes.

But he also cautioned that there are times when donors want to give money to programs or causes which don’t match hospital priorities. He cited a recent example at VGH when a donor wanted to give $100,000 for a new piece of equipment not available here. The donor had been treated in the U.S. and was so impressed with the technology – and his positive outcome – that he thought VGH should have it. However, procurement experts at VGH decided the equipment was not proven to be clinically better than existing technology so the donor was told the donation could not be used for that purpose. “This is a donor we have a relationship with,” Dumouchelle said. “We didn’t alienate him.”

Read this original article by Pamela Fayerman at the Vancouver Sun here.

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