Sote reform | A man marinated in leadership washes replaced a woman known as a health and safety expert – This sparked an open dispute between doctors and politicians

Last summer, Harri Hagman was elected as the director of the Kymenlaakso welfare area. Valinta shared the opinions of key players in the welfare area.

Kymenlaakso there is a dispute in the welfare area, where some of the employees of the welfare area accuse the decision-makers of the welfare area of ​​playing a political game.

“The political game has taken away predictability and trust in the decision-making of the welfare area,” says the chief administrative physician of specialized medical care Annaleena Heikkilä.

Several people employed in the Kymenlaakso welfare area and several political decision-makers in the area have been interviewed for this article. Most of them do not want to speak by name, because they feel that they will find themselves in a difficult situation at work or in a position of trust.

It all started last summer, when the council voted Harri Hagman’s Kymenlaakso welfare area manager.

Hagman received 39 votes, the then CEO of Kymenlaakso’s social and health union Kymsote Annikki Niiranen 15 votes and the third candidate who participated in the vote Sami Puukari 4 votes. At the time, Hagman was the manager of SataDiag, a business that produces diagnostic services for the Satakunta hospital district.

The regional council’s decision was preceded by a search for a welfare regional director in the spring of 2022.

There were five applicants in Kymenlaakso by the first deadline. Kymsote’s CEO at the time, Annikki Niiranen, was also among them. However, the regional government decided to propose to the regional council that the search be continued because “considering the importance of the position, there were not enough applicants”.

Niiranen appealed to the Administrative Court of Eastern Finland about the selection of the manager. In his complaint, he considers that the regional council chose Harri Hagman, who is more incompetent than him, for the position, and Sami Puukari, who is also more incompetent than him, as his replacement.

The regional government of the Kymenlaakso welfare area demands the administrative right of Eastern Finland to reject the appeal made about the selection of the welfare area director. The court processes the appeal. A decision is expected in February–March.

Part for the management of the organization, I would have liked to have seen Niiranen as the director.

“The fact that Annikki Niiranen has been thrown under the bus because of political games has caused enormous ethical stress for Kymsoten’s really motivated staff. The majority do not want to present criticism because they are worried about their own jobs,” says senior administrative physician Heikkilä.

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Kymenlaakso was several steps ahead of many welfare areas, because since 2019 the voluntary municipal association of social and health services Kymsote had already been operating there. So social and health services had already been organized for three years in the region across the municipal borders. Niiranen had been Kymsote’s CEO.

Kymsote’s time was not easy for all Kymenlaakso residents. The members demanded that the costs should only increase by the amount of the mandatory salary increases, so the municipal corporation started austerity. Kymsote held extensive yt negotiations in 2019–2020 and it was decided to locate the organization in Kotka. The politicians of Kouvola, which has a larger population, did not like it at all.

Now, with more than 161,000 inhabitants, the Kymenlaakso welfare area includes Hamina, Kotka, Kouvola, Miehikkälä, Pyhtää and Virolahti. The welfare area’s budget for this year is 762 million, a deficit of about 50 million is coming.

“Wellness area director was chosen in a fully democratic process, the end result of which was that Annikki Niiranen was not chosen for this position. The result was so clear that there is no room for speculation in that regard,” reminds one politician from Kymenlaakso.

The politician admits that since Hagman does not come from the field of social, health or rescue work, the job requires familiarization and learning from him.

“I don’t think that there are many managers of Annik’s level of content expertise in social and health care issues nationwide,” he adds.

The point is that the majority of the regional council wanted to change the leader. During Kymsoten, several politicians, especially those from Kouvola, criticized Annikki Niiranen’s leadership, for example in the opinion columns of newspapers.

Welfare area matters falling within the scope of official responsibility of office holders have now started to be dealt with in political institutions, one official explains. He means that politicians want to intervene in the activities that are the responsibility of the office holder more than before the existence of the welfare area.

Motions prepared by officials are often voted on in the regional government.

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“Not all issues in social and health care can be decided politically. They are governed by laws, which the office holders must thoroughly follow,” says an official from the welfare area.

This means, for example, that according to the law, the health care unit must have a responsible doctor who manages and supervises the health and medical care of the unit. Then the politicians have to know the limits of what they can intervene in their actions.

Chairman of the Regional Board Nina Brask (sd.) does not recognize that the decisions belonging to the office holders would have spilled over into the consideration of the regional board.

“It is true that the work of the preparers has increased enormously when the regional government, council and boards have entered the welfare area. The members of the regional board also ask a lot of questions at the meeting, but it’s not related to decision-making, but more to general education,” says Brask.

One operator of the Kymenlaakso welfare area says that the activities of the welfare area are managed by the lower level, i.e. the branch managers, and that the role of presenter seems to go to the chairman of the regional board. He considers it problematic that the role of the presenter of the welfare area does not seem to belong to the leader of the welfare area.

“But this doesn’t appear in the minutes,” he says.

However, according to the governing rules of the welfare region, the presenter in the regional board is the HVA director. He is also responsible for the legality of decisions.

Welfare area chief medical officer Marja-Liisa Mäntymaa states that politics determines the directions and big decisions about the economy and the organization of services.

“Autumn was about applying for an operating model, when there was also a new board round for decision-making. The fall was of course exceptional, because the old Kymsote’s activities still had to be continued and at the same time the new one had to be prepared. Even in the best case, there is a lot to learn from both sides in a situation like this”, says Mäntymaa.

Hagman himself states that the welfare area is very different in its operating principles from the municipal association.

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“There has been a lot of learning and familiarization here for the welfare area office holders as well as the trustees,” says Hagman.

He points out that there are always those who miss the old operating model for one reason or another in the changes.

Anniki Niiranen the social security field’s resume is long. He was the deputy mayor responsible for Kouvola’s welfare services from 2011 to 2015. After that, he was the director of Kymenlaakso’s hospital and social services municipal corporation Carea from 2015 to 2018 and since 2019 the CEO of Kymsote.

The elected Harri Hagman, on the other hand, has versatile leadership experience. Since 2014, he has managed Satadiag, which is a business facility that produces diagnostic services for the Satakunta hospital district. Before that, he has held management positions at the biogas company Biovaka, Eera Finland and as a director at Elisa.

In December, the regional government of the Kymenlaakso welfare area decided to pay Niirase a severance payment of around 186,500 euros.

Nina Brask, chairwoman of the regional board, states that according to the regional board’s report, there is no job in the welfare area similar to that of the former CEO of Kymsote.

“All branch managers had to reapply for their positions in the welfare area. It would have been unfair to others if we had given Annikki Niirane a new task. We agreed on a severance pay,” says Brask.

From Kymenlaakso a key politician thinks that some actors in the welfare area purposefully want to spin the mill about the election of the leader of the welfare area.

An official working in the welfare area also says that he is confused by the strength of the criticism raised by the doctors.

He estimates that it is largely a matter of the fact that the previous director had the entire operation and economy of the welfare area and the details very well under control. Then, for example, doctors in responsible positions could only focus on their own work.

“Annikki Niiranen was exceptionally skilled and a very well-liked person in our organization among those with whom he worked,” says Annaleena Heikkilä.

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