I just love how our tax dollars get pissed away and Daddy Dalton gets all concerned!
Government concerned by eHealth spending: McGuinty
Premier's concern 'cold comfort' for taxpayers: Runciman
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty admitted his government is concerned with news of nearly $5 million in untendered contracts by newly minted eHealth Ontario and wants to speed up a review of their spending practices.
In the face of sharp criticism from opposition parties at Queen's Park Thursday, McGuinty responded, "This is a concern to us, as well."
"There are some facts that have been brought to the fore which do not sit easy with us," he added.
CBC News reported Wednesday that eHealth Ontario CEO Sarah Kramer approved about $4.8 million in contracts without opening up the deals to outside bidders during the first four months of the agency's operation.
"This is your appointee, this is your agency. To say that you're concerned is cold comfort, I would think, to taxpayers," interim Progressive Conservative Leader Bob Runciman replied to McGuinty in the legislature.
Late last September, McGuinty announced the creation of eHealth to set up to create a digital record system by 2015 to allow health-care providers to electronically share patient information.
It was formed as a merger of an e-health program at the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care and Smart Systems for Health Agency (SSHA), an organization that had come under criticism for spending on consultants and for lacking a strategic plan.
"The very reason that we want to move ahead with an electronic health record system in Ontario is to deliver better health care by finding greater efficiencies and being more respectful of the Ontario taxpayer dollar," McGuinty said in the legislature.
Workers fired for challenging procurement: sources
New information also surfaced Thursday that nine senior eHealth employees — including the acting director of procurement and chief legal counsel — were fired between December and March. Sources told CBC News that some of them had challenged the agency's tendering practices.
Kramer denied the allegations, saying workers were let go due to skill-based reasons and said the agency has encouraged its workers to express any concerns they have.
The eHealth CEO has defended the agency's procurement policy as justified because of the rapid transition process from SSHA to eHealth.
"We needed to turn a big ship around very quickly. If you don't turn a big ship around quickly, it'll be 2015 and we'll be floating out to sea," Kramer said.
She wouldn't speak to specifics about questions raised about bills obtained by CBC News showing an executive assistant hired for $213 per hour, or about $1,700 a day.
Ontario's auditor general is currently investigating spending at eHealth and its predecessor, SSHA, with plans to unveil his findings in a December annual report.
But McGuinty said he welcomes recommendations "sooner rather than later" from the auditor general.
Documents show Kramer earns a base salary of $380,000 and received a $114,000 bonus in March, about five months after her start date.
The next month, Kramer announced in a memo that the company was cutting back on employee bonuses.
Kramer's expenditures also came under scrutiny in April when opposition members complained she spent $51,500 on office furniture.
Documents also raised concerns about two of eHealth's consultants who are listed as senior vice-presidents and commute to Toronto on a regular basis from their homes in Alberta, at a cost of $1.5 million a year for flights, accommodation and per diems.
Another consultant, who charged $300 an hour, billed the agency for reading a New York Times article, reviewing Kramer's holiday voicemail greeting and a debriefing that took place during a chat on the Toronto subway system.
Asked whether Kramer got value for some of the questioned expenses, she replied, "I do think I got value for money and the way I know is everything that we wanted to get done got done on time, on budget, and in many cases much better than we hoped could be done."