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Palin controversy pushes hospitals out of picture
[i]Amid a barrage of criticism, organizers of a fundraiser featuring former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin have decided the event will no longer benefit public health care.
Instead, funds from the April 15 gala will go to the Charity of Hope, an organization that helps children.
"The attention became a health-care debate when the attention should've been on ... an event that benefits the community," said Dennis Concordia, one of the co-chairs of the event.
Concordia said organizers felt the Juravinski Cancer Centre and St. Peter's Hospital, the previously named beneficiaries, were "unfairly being made targets of a lot of negative publicity."
Pearl Veenema, president and CEO of Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation, said it was notified on Wednesday that organizers would be considering the reaction to the event and that the beneficiary might change.
The hospital was notified of the decision yesterday through a press release.
"It's unfortunate the funds will not be directed to Hamilton Health Sciences, the two hospitals that they wanted to raise funds for, but we're appreciative ... of (their) intentions," Veenema said.
Palin has spoken out against Canada's healthcare system, causing some upset about her stand to feel she was an inappropriate speaker to raise funds for a Canadian hospital. Others feel she's not a good fit for Hamilton, a city with five social democrat legislators.
As of mid-week, HHS had received about 60 angry calls and e-mails from residents, about 10 of which involved donors who said they would not give again.
In a Spectator poll asking if people would buy a ticket to see Palin, more than 4,300 of the almost 5,800 respondents said they would not.
"I don't think we could have predicted the backlash, not necessarily here in Hamilton but across North America," Concordia said.
"And we certainly want to respect Governor Palin's position and we didn't want to have the hospitals become unfairly commented on."
Concordia said a decision was made to change the beneficiary over the weekend. He said there was no political pressure or pressure from Palin's people to change the recipient.
But when asked if Palin's camp knew what the benefit was for when it agreed to have her speak, Concordia said he did not want to comment on a confidential contract.
Murray Martin, president and CEO of Hamilton Health Sciences, said the hospital respects the decision.
"It's their decision," he said. "It's a third-party event. We respect whatever direction they want to go. I know they were concerned if it would have a negative impact on us. But we very much realize that it should be their decision."
Healthcare philanthropist Charles Juravinski said he had not been informed of the change before being contacted by The Spectator.
"Quite frankly, you're taking me by storm ... There just seems to be a lot of kerfuffle over nothing," he said.
"Anything ... that helps fundraising for any worthwhile organization or charity is certainly worthwhile."
Ted McMeekin, MPP for Ancaster,-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, said in an e-mail that this was a strange situation and he had never seen anything like it.
"Clearly there was some negative feedback on Palin being associated with health care and the hospitals. Word on the street was that some base donors were angry with Palin's choice as speaker and that created the potential for some backlash."
McMeekin said he was not familiar with the newly designated beneficiary.
The concept for The Charity of Hope, according to a message on its website from its president Sam Mercanti, started among friends at the local YMCA. They hope to grow the charity each year.
The founder of Carmen's, which hosts the annual Charity of Hope fundraiser, is Peter Mercanti, Sam's brother.[/i]