Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Minister orders review of spending at eHealth Ontario

First comes the review, then comes the inquiry!

The Ontario government has ordered an independent review of spending at eHealth Ontario in the wake of CBC News reports that the agency awarded nearly $5 million in untendered contracts.

Health Minister David Caplan said he asked for the third-party audit to make sure the agency was following best management practices.

"I thought that there were enough questions and enough areas where we needed more information and we needed expert advice," said Caplan.

EHealth Ontario says it has directed PricewaterhouseCoopers to perform the audit into the organization's procurement and employment practices, as well as any other related spending issues.

"We look forward to the completion of this work on an expedited basis," said Dr. Alan Hudson, who serves as the agency's board chair.

CBC News obtained documents last Wednesday that showed eHealth Ontario CEO Sarah Kramer had doled out about $4.8 million in contracts during the agency's first four months of operation without opening up the contracts to competitive bids.

Documents also showed Kramer was awarded a six-figure bonus after her first few months, spent $51,500 on her office furniture, hired two consultants who live in Alberta and an executive assistant who costs about $1,700 a day.

One 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.

NDP questions board's role in review
Last week, Caplan's response to news of eHealth's questionable spending was markedly different. "No rules were broken," he insisted during question period.

The health minister said he met with Hudson over the weekend and expressed his concerns.

Caplan also said he'd be meeting with Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter, who had begun looking into spending practices at eHealth late last year.

McCarter had said his review of eHealth would be included in his annual report this December.

New Democrats questioned why eHealth's board should be responsible for naming the auditor to review its own spending practices.

"It's a bit frightening to think that the same board that's causing this government so much problem is still going to be responsible for this review. It's time for the minister to get involved and take responsibility for this mess," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

Hudson refused requests from CBC News for an interview.

EHealth was created last September by the Liberal government when it merged the Smart Systems for Health Agency with the e-health program at the Ministry of Health.

It is tasked with creating electronic health records for all Ontarians by 2015.


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