Thursday, April 24, 2014

In Defense of Gene Jones


The City of Toronto ombudsman Fiona Crean has released two reports in two months that are highly critical of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC — the second-largest social housing provider in North America after New York) and especially critical of the President and CEO, Gene Jones. Jones is an American, known as the social housing Mr. Fix-It and was offered the job after several scandals within TCHC. Some of these included the willy-nilly eviction of vulnerable seniors (at least one of whome died as a result), a $700 million backlog of repairs, horrible conditions for many tenants, while staff were engaging in kickbacks and holding $40,000 Christmas parties. The place had to be fixed and Gene Jones was chosen to be the man to clean it out.

The new Ombudsman reports focus on implementation of recommendations to protect vulnerable seniors and one released this week focuses on human resource issues. It speaks of 80+ management staff being fired/retiring/quitting, how this created chaos and a “culture of fear” where employees fear for their jobs on a daily basis, and how senior management — and the CEO especially — ignored proper processes, fired people without cause and in general treated the places like their own little kingdom. After all, all of these people no longer working for the corporation has to be random, right? And people are up in arms, calling for the firing of our CEO, because the man clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing. Doesn’t have a vision. 

And I might believe that, if I my only source of information was the Ombudsman report (more on that below). If I didn’t know TCHC. 

I have been a TCHC tenant for over 18 years and for most of that time, been active in the tenant engagement process, which is mandated by the TCHC stakeholder agreement with the City. I know about this organization from the inside. And I'm here to tell you a very different story.

They say Gene doesn't have a vision. That's not the case. Gene’s vision is to put residents first. And this is apparently such a novel idea that no one has figured it out. Not the Ombudsman, not the Board of Directors, not the multiple reporters and commentators who have been gleefully picking over this issue like a flock of vultures.

Gene arrived at TCHC two years ago and immediately sent a clear message that things were going to change.

Within days, Gene started visiting communities and buildings and everywhere he went, he handed out his card and encouraged residents to contact him. So we did. And every time we did, he responded. When we invited him to Tenant Rep Council meetings, he came. When we invited him to other committee meetings, he came. He arranged community meetings to listen to the concerns of residents and he responded. Gene made himself accessible to residents.

This is not a case of a CEO being more accessible than any other CEO. This is that Gene is the first CEO to ever be accessible to the residents. Period. In my 18 years of living in this community, I have never even seen one of the previous CEOs in person, nevermind had their email and cell phone number and been encouraged to contact them. Now? If we have a problem with a process or a staff member, we shoot him an email, he responds right away at any time of day (even at midnight) and he deals with it.

Before Gene, TCHC had a culture of blocking tenants, stonewalling change and co-opting and eroding the tenant engagement process. That stopped two years ago. One of the first things that happened was that Gene put the staff directory on the Toronto Housing website. Prior to his arrival, we couldn’t reach anyone in senior management. As a Tenant Rep, I would eventually prove my trustworthiness enough to get the direct line to my area Manager, but it was with the understanding that I shouldn’t really use it and I should definitely not give it to any of the tenants in my building. Now I can reach any TCHC staff I need and they are expected to respond to me in a timely manner and with respect.

Sounds perfectly reasonable? It didn’t used to be. This alone has been revolutionary.

As for the “culture of fear.” I have the opportunity to work with a lot of staff, from building staff to middle and senior management. None of the people I know are afraid. They are working really hard to make this a better place, but they are very good at what they do and so many more of them are now thriving. Gene holds you to a high standard and if you work to meet that standard — and so many of the staff do — you have his full support.

Let’s talk about the 80+ staff who are no longer with TCHC. A few of the 45 who were fired were let go due to corruption, but by no means all of them. But TCHC had a culture. It had a culture of complacency, a lack of protocol and processes, a lack of competence. This culture was dedicated to blocking residents from knowing what was going on, as well as our ability to work effectively with staff. In the two years prior to Gene’s arrival, there was a concerted and coordinated effort by the Corporation to erode the tenant engagement process. There were deep systemic issues. I didn’t know all of the 80+ staff who are no longer with the organization, but I did know enough of them. And when the news hit of the ones who were fired, a lot of tenants drew deep breaths of relief every time and said “now we can get things done.” And instead of it being the same old thing where we were offered hope and then sucked back into a morass of obstacles, instead there were now clear lines and hard work and actual change.

And that’s another thing that no one’s talking about. The fact that it was necessary to clean out staff to the tune of 80+ individuals in order to deal with the corruption and systemic issues that have been perpetuated by the old guard and staff deeply mired in the restrictive TCHC culture. Because that was the reason these people retired, resigned or were fired. Because they were not meeting the new standards or actively working against what was best for residents. 

From this resident’s perspective, it was a long time coming and the change has been unbelievable. TCHC is now transparent, staff are accountable and responsive to residents. This is the difference that Gene has made. 

Gene received a mandate to clean out TCHC and he is doing just that. I believe that the current problems are based in the fact that he is pursuing this mandate with vigour. Because it wouldn’t surprise me if they meant that he should clean out TCHC, but not… y’know… quite this much. It also wouldn’t surprise me if much of this is political, because TCHC is a highly politically toxic creature. I’m not going to go into detail on the Ombudsman’s report, except to say that I thought her office was supposed to be objective and neutral. The extremely snarky tone of the April 22 report belies that obligation and makes it look as if she has a political agenda.

For years, no one has cared about TCHC residents. Gene does. And this is why I and so many other tenants love the man and would follow him anywhere.

It is essential that Gene Jones be given the opportunity to complete his mandate. And I hope that the Board of Directors of TCHC will put residents before politics and give him - and us - their full support.
   

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Rheumatoid Arthritis Blood Tests – What Do They Mean?

Did you ever wonder about the blood tests for RA? My new post for HealthCentral outlines the most common RA blood tests and what the numbers mean:

"RF. ESR. Anti-CCP. ANA. CPR. No, these aren’t codes used by secret agents to communicate their missions. They’re names of blood tests used in diagnosing and managing rheumatoid arthritis. When you’re new to this disease, they can seem as mysterious and impenetrable as a secret language. What do they measure? What do the numbers mean? What’s normal, what isn’t? This post is all about demystifying RA blood tests."


RF. ESR. Anti-CCP. ANA. CPR. No, these aren’t codes used by secret agents to communicate their missions. They’re names of blood tests used in diagnosing and managing rheumatoid arthritis. When you’re new to this disease, they can seem as mysterious and impenetrable as a secret language. What do they measure? What do the numbers mean? What’s normal, what isn’t? This post is all about demystifying RA blood tests.

RA Blood Tests
There are a number of blood tests that can be used when doctors are trying to find out if you have RA, as well as indicators of how the disease is managed. Some of the most common blood tests are:
- See more at: http://www.healthcentral.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/c/80106/168572/ra-blood-tests#sthash.vQbGPr1z.dpuf
RF. ESR. Anti-CCP. ANA. CPR. No, these aren’t codes used by secret agents to communicate their missions. They’re names of blood tests used in diagnosing and managing rheumatoid arthritis. When you’re new to this disease, they can seem as mysterious and impenetrable as a secret language. What do they measure? What do the numbers mean? What’s normal, what isn’t? This post is all about demystifying RA blood tests.

RA Blood Tests
There are a number of blood tests that can be used when doctors are trying to find out if you have RA, as well as indicators of how the disease is managed. Some of the most common blood tests are:
- See more at: http://www.healthcentral.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/c/80106/168572/ra-blood-tests#sthash.vQbGPr1z.dpuf
RF. ESR. Anti-CCP. ANA. CPR. No, these aren’t codes used by secret agents to communicate their missions. They’re names of blood tests used in diagnosing and managing rheumatoid arthritis. When you’re new to this disease, they can seem as mysterious and impenetrable as a secret language. What do they measure? What do the numbers mean? What’s normal, what isn’t? This post is all about demystifying RA blood tests.

RA Blood Tests
There are a number of blood tests that can be used when doctors are trying to find out if you have RA, as well as indicators of how the disease is managed. Some of the most common blood tests are:
- See more at: http://www.healthcentral.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/c/80106/168572/ra-blood-tests#sthash.vQbGPr1z.dpuf
RF. ESR. Anti-CCP. ANA. CPR. No, these aren’t codes used by secret agents to communicate their missions. They’re names of blood tests used in diagnosing and managing rheumatoid arthritis. When you’re new to this disease, they can seem as mysterious and impenetrable as a secret language. What do they measure? What do the numbers mean? What’s normal, what isn’t? This post is all about demystifying RA blood tests.

RA Blood Tests
There are a number of blood tests that can be used when doctors are trying to find out if you have RA, as well as indicators of how the disease is managed. Some of the most common blood tests are:
- See more at: http://www.healthcentral.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/c/80106/168572/ra-blood-tests#sthash.vQbGPr1z.dpuf
RF. ESR. Anti-CCP. ANA. CPR. No, these aren’t codes used by secret agents to communicate their missions. They’re names of blood tests used in diagnosing and managing rheumatoid arthritis. When you’re new to this disease, they can seem as mysterious and impenetrable as a secret language. What do they measure? What do the numbers mean? What’s normal, what isn’t? This post is all about demystifying RA blood tests.

RA Blood Tests
There are a number of blood tests that can be used when doctors are trying to find out if you have RA, as well as indicators of how the disease is managed. Some of the most common blood tests are:
- See more at: http://www.healthcentral.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/c/80106/168572/ra-blood-tests#sthash.vQbGPr1z.dpuf

Monday, April 14, 2014

Earning Her Nickname



Today is Lucy’s Gotcha Day. Four years ago, on April 14, she came home and took over my life and I’ve loved every minute. She’s the sweetest cat I’ve ever known – in four years, she has never hissed, never swatted, never nipped. She just puts up with things. Whether it’s nail clippings, having her temperature taken at the vet, having children pay lots and lots of attention, she just takes it.

Over time, I have discovered that her full name is Miss Lucinda A. Bellows. Lucinda because she is very much not a Lucille, Bellows because she purrs harder than any cat I’ve ever met, her flanks pushing in and out like a bellows in a smithy. The A? Is for anatife, barnacle in French. Which should tell you something about how much time she spends on my lap. Where she often grooms herself and would fall off, if I didn’t make sure to hold on to some part of her.


Miss Lucy has many nicknames, often variations on her name (Lu, Lulu, Luce, etc.), but there are also others, more descriptive of her actions and personality. She is the opposite of elegant, very much a doofus cat. In the 13 years I shared my life with Mojo, she never once knocked anything over. Lucy? It happens every couple of days.


One could argue that this should be incentive for me to ensure that all surfaces (a.k.a. horizontal filing areas) were pristine and uncluttered, but that’s just not the kind of life I have. What it has done is prompted me to develop a particular statement – “what are you doing?” — said in a particular tone that Miss. Lucy knows very well means she has done something she’s not supposed to. At which point, she looks at me half innocently, half apologetic and I melt.

Today is not about the level of clumsiness in my supposedly feline companion. Today, I’m going to share one of my cat’s particular characteristics that has earned her an equally particular nickname.

I first learned about this part of my new companion very shortly after she arrived. I always have a (plastic) glass of water on my bedside table. In the aforementioned 13 years I shared my life with Mojo, I had two glasses on my bedside table: one for Mojo, one for me. She never drank out of mine. Lucy? Didn’t just drink out of my glass, but would also sit on my bedside table and if I didn’t pay attention to her, knock it over. Into the bed.

It took three times of spending several hours in a very cold and damp bed before I replaced it with a ceramic mug that she couldn’t knock over. This hasn’t prevented her from drinking out of every glass of water I have. Half the time using her paw, dipping it into the water, licking her paw and repeating this until she’s done. Often right after having been in the litter box.

 
Right.

Not surprisingly, I always make sure that her glass is filled up with fresh, cold water.

When I first moved into this apartment, I used to buy Christmas trees. Then I got cheap and started decorating my ficus tree instead. This stopped four years ago, as Lucy had already on numerous occasions tried to climb into the ficus and didn’t need any additional temptation. So instead, I buy a small Christmas decoration in a pot. It’s worked well for several years.

A couple of days into January, I noticed that the 2013 version of the pot was tipped over. I thought maybe one of the staff at accidentally touched it with an elbow, so I righted it again. The next day, the same thing happened. And the next day. I righted it again and went back to watching TV. Then I heard a rustling, turned around and noticed that Lucy was chewing on the pine needles. Rather energetically.

Right.

The pot got moved into my storage room for a while until cleaning day. My housekeeper put it on my hallway dresser for maybe 1.5 minutes just before going to the garbage. There was a crash. When we went to look what had happened, we found this


Not surprisingly, Lucy barfed shortly thereafter.

I also have two little clay birds, of the kind you fill up with water and by blowing in the tail, sound like they’re chirping. They are displayed on one of my shelves, standing tail to tail. Some weeks ago, I was ignoring Lucy. I know it wasn’t nice of me, but we’d already played for a while and I do have to work so I can pay for her kibble. I heard something hit the floor in the living room and when I went to investigate, I found this on the floor


Right.

It may not have been a parrot, but it was very definitely an ex bird. When I showed it to Miss Lucy, she thought I’d finally come to play with her.


Now, you may be asking me how I’m so sure that this was an accident. As proof, I’d like to present this photo of the other bird. Located on a shelf that had (temporarily) also served as a horizontal filing area for some mail.


So, what is this nickname I’ve given her? It is, quite naturally, You Little Shit.

But with a face like this, how can you be mad for long?