Hospital District bids farewell to Kettle
Election time is when some new leaders assume the mantle of civic responsibility. It is also a time when some established leaders say good-bye.
And sometimes, it is when a giant takes leave, such as the case of the retiring Regional District of Central Kootenay Electoral Area B Director and RDCK Board Chair John Kettle, who is also the outgoing chair of the Kootenay East Regional Hospital District (KERHD) board of directors.
The imposing Kettle, usually seen with his black 10-gallon hat on, has been an outspoken and tireless leader for his rural south and east Creston area constituents, the RDCK and for the KERHD.
Kettle joined the KERHD board in 2003 and was first elected chair in 2008.
“A great deal has been accomplished during his time on the board. In 2007, the year before Mr. Kettle took over as Chair, the Kootenay East Regional Hospital District taxation was at its highest. Since then, the taxation has decreased every year until 2014 when it held steady. To put this into numbers, the 2014 requisition was 39% lower than it was in 2007,” explained KERHD Acting Chair, District of Elkford Mayor Dean McKerracher.
“Yes, some of this is to do with the major upgrade of the East Kootenay Regional Hospital, but much of it is to the credit of Chair Kettle’s leadership which included a regular reminder to us all that we mainly fund only bricks and mortar.
“It’s been an honour to be your Tonto,” McKerracher joked at the outset of the November KERHD meeting, when fellow board members and regional government staff paid tribute to Kettle, who opted not to run again in the Nov. 15 election.
McKerracher pointed out that Kettle was instrumental in advancing projects at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital, including the ICU redevelopment and electrical upgrade, a new CT scanner, and an improved isolation room air system which totaled almost $23 million. In addition, the $4.3 million Invermere and District Hospital emergency room upgrade was undertaken sooner than expected due to the Kettle’s efforts to advance the project at the provincial level.
“John worked tirelessly in the background with Interior Health, the Ministry, Ministers and MLAs to advocate for the region and build strong working relationships. We will miss his leadership,” said McKerracher, who was re-elected as District of Elkford Mayor Nov. 15.
Further proof of the enormous respect felt for Kettle came from Todd Mastel, Interior Health’s Director, Business Support. Over the years, Mastel has stood before Kettle and the board, providing updates, and has on occasion been verbally pounded.
“It’s been great to work with you Chair Kettle,” he said. “You always walk the talk and you’ve never been shy of asking the hard questions.”
As part of the celebration, the KERHD board presented $500 to the East Kootenay Foundation for Health in Kettle’s name, as well as an ornate clock.
Along with his propensity for telling things as he sees them, Kettle’s humour is legendary.
After offering humble thanks and noting the KERHD board is a team well-backed by Regional District of East Kootenay and KERHD chief administrative officer Lee-Ann Crane and her staff, Kettle offered a quote from Sir Winston Churchill: “Democracy is a great thing until you talk to the average voter.”
Kettle admitted the love being shared was “a little unnerving. I may have run again if I knew you were going to do this!”
Kettle said his time at the KERHD board table “has been a pleasure.”
He thanked Interior Health, too. “Our relationship with the IHA has been second to none,” he said.
Kettle reiterated that he believes the RDEK and KERHD are in good hands thanks to professional and dedicated staff and then shared a story about his first encounter with CAO Crane.
“It was like walking into Santa’s workshop,” he said of Crane’s office when he attended his first board meeting. “Working with you has been a cool deal for me,” he told Crane and then turned to Shannon Moskal, Manager of Community Services., seated at his right. “I’m a like a third child to her!” He declared.
Kettle singled out RDEK and KERHD Chief Financial Officer Shawn Tomlin for his work in helping the board decrease taxation.
“For a young guy to be that conservative” and careful with taxpayers’ money, is incredible, Kettle said, adding it is all the more amazing because of the fact Tomlin comes from the Slocan Valley, where “hippies” flourish, he cracked.
Kettle also stated thanks to Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett for his dedication to helping the KERHD.
“We’re only as good as the people who back you up,” he said. “When we saddled up with Bill Bennett” the Invermere & District Hospital emergency room project became a reality, he said.
“Bricks and mortar, Bricks and mortar, Bricks and mortar…it’s been the way we’ve operated this board. Our success has been joint,” Kettle concluded.
Fellow board members shared their best wishes for Kettle.
Outgoing Town of Creston Councillor and incoming City of Cranbrook Councillor Wesly Graham said to Kettle, “You’ve done a lot for both the East and West Kootenay.”
CKRD Electoral Area C Director and KERHD board member Larry Binks joked: “Sometimes we don’t know what you’re talking about because of those $50 words. The passion you have for looking after your constituents really says something about you. At the end of the day we fought fairly and ended up with a win-win.”
RDEK Electoral Area G Director Gerry Wilkie said, “You’ve been an outstanding chair and a major force for the terrific health care in the region.”
City of Kimberley Mayor Ron McRae offered: “On behalf of the citizens of Kimberley we wish you well.”
City of Fernie Mayor Mary Giuliano simply declared, “ I will miss you!”
While City of Cranbrook Mayor Wayne Stetski told Kettle: “You chairmanship has been exceptional.”
Village of Radium Hot Springs Mayor Dee Conklin related a story about her mayoral predecessor Greg Deck told her, prior to first KERHD meeting, “If you really need to know the people around you, talk to Kettle. You have been nothing but a gentleman,” she said.
District of Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft related how Kettle worked tirelessly behind the scenes.
“You did an excellent job and we really appreciate the effort,” he said, referring to the Invermere ER project that Kettle was instrumental in making happen.
Taft added he still believes the KERHD boundary, which includes Creston and rural Creston, as well as Golden and rural Golden, should be in the make up of the RDEK.
“We work well together,” he said.
Village of Canal Flats Mayor Ute Juras said, “You are truly one of the most interesting and truly unique persons I have ever met.”
Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) Electoral Area A Director and KERHD board member Garry Habart, speaking on the phone, urged Kettle to “keep your spurs on!”
Kettle said he intends to spend time with his family over the next few months and hopes to continue to be involved in health advocacy.
The Kootenay East Regional Hospital District covers a large area including the RDEK, the Towns of Creston and Golden as well as their surrounding rural communities. The function of the Hospital District is to provide up to 40% of the funding for equipment and construction projects at health care facilities within the Hospital District, with the remaining cost being covered by Interior Health.
Lead photo: KERHD Chair John Kettle (left) receives a parting gift from Acting Chair Dean McKerracher at the start of the November KERHD Board meeting.