Monday, November 06, 2006

Why Does the City Waste my Tax Dollars?

Yesterday I received a couriered package from the City of Ottawa Public Health department. I imagine every doctor in Ottawa received the same package (or at least every family doc).

In this high priority package was a list of upcoming flu shot clinics, a reader survey, the Physician’s update newsletter, a list of communicable diseases that I’m bound to report to the Ministry of Health, a form that I can fax to receive Ottawa Public Health immunization documents, a flyer from the Centretown Community Health Centre on their Community Diabetes Education Program, a handout on how to start a patient on insulin (in English and in French), a phone list for physicians/health care providers in the Ottawa Public Health Department and 20 fifteen page minibooks called, “Influenza Pandemic – Are YOU ready (with ‘you’ indeed being emphasized by means of a magnifying glass on the cover).

I especially like the minibook. There’s a handy dandy top ten list of emergencies that the City of Ottawa could face:

1. An infectious disease outbreak
2. An earthquake
3. A radiation-related emergency
4. Water contamination
5. A lifeline (sewer system) failure
6. An ice storm
7. An act of terrorism
8. An explosion
9. A demonstration or riot
10. A hazardous material spill.
The package weighed 1.3lbs!

First question of course is does the City actually believe their disaster planning handout is a useful thing for residents to have? Do people truly not realize that washing your hands is a good idea with a flu outbreak? Does it really help to be told to expect 80 deaths per day during a hypothetical outbreak?

More important question, why wasn’t it mailed to me rather than wasting my tax dollars on god knows how much in courier costs?

I couldn't resist, I had to know - wanna know how much money was wasted?

Playing around on DHL's website (that's who shipped these materials) based on the package's size and weight I came up with a rough cost of $15 for that shipment.

Using the CPSO Doctor Search tool I identified 1050 family doctors in Ottawa. Simple math says $15,750 spent yesterday to send something that I would imagine 99% of family doctors will chuck into the garbage with little more than a cursory glance.

Of course I have no idea if they've restricted their mailing just to family docs. If they sent it out to all the docs, the CPSO site says there are 3,359 doctors in Ottawa. That's $50,385 in courier costs.

Some more bad news - they ship stuff like this out 3 times per year! If we assume similar sized shipments and costs, that's $47,250 per year if exclusively sent to family docs and $151,155 per year if sent to all docs.

[UPDATE: My Ottawa sources (a local OB/GYN among them) inform me that indeed, ALL doctors in Ottawa received the mailing!]

Much as I think the content was useless, even if I thought the content were valuable, it certainly wasn't an emergency and could easily have been sent in plain old mail. Last time I checked, no disasters in Ottawa. If it had been sent regular old mail Canada Post's site says it would have cost roughly $6.60 per.

I'm curious if this is a problem restricted to Ottawa or whether there is a pandemic of spending at our various public health units.

UPDATE: See most recent post detailing City's investigation