eHealth consultants got big contracts for VP titles
Published Tuesday, July 21, 2009 8:38PM EDT
Two consultants hired as executives for eHealth Ontario were given contract extensions worth more than $1.7 million last year, but still billed taxpayers for snacks and cocktails, CTV Toronto has learned.
Last December, eHealth Ontario hired consultant Donna Strating for transition planning and gave her a four-month contract worth $210,000, CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss reported Tuesday.
While earning $2,700 a day, Strating billed taxpayers $1.65 for tea, $3 for soup and $3.19 for a dessert square, documents show. Strating was later given a 16-month contract extension worth more than $1 million.
In November, consultant Allaudin Merali signed a five-month contract with eHealth worth $286,000. Later his contract was extended to eight months for a total of $703,000.
Still, Merali submitted an invoice for $15 cocktails and asked to be reimbursed for a stay at Toronto's Royal York Hotel -- a tab worth $2,100. He also expensed 31 flights home to Edmonton to the tune of $24,000.
Contracts for both Merali and Strating, who both held the titles of senior vice-president, ended in June. The pair earned $463,000 and $326,000 before their work finished. Strating reimbursed eHealth for $425 in expenses.
The revelations about the two former executives are the latest in a string of spending controversies associated with the health records agency, and come amid accusations that the government has been reckless with public funds.
Earlier this month, records showed that eHealth paid a consultant $300 per hour to design business cards.
"This is an outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars," said Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak on Tuesday, adding that the consultants were "nickel-and-diming" taxpayers for snacks while pulling in thousands of dollars a day.
Ontario NDP MPP Peter Kormos said that the expenses and contracts are unacceptable.
"The stink that these people are leaving behind makes the Toronto garbage strike smell good. The fact is, this reeks," he said Tuesday in Toronto.
The eHealth organization was given the task of putting provincial health records online, but came under fire this spring after it was found that the bidding process was inadequate.
Under a previous program, the push to make health records electronic cost about $650 million, but didn't make any progress.
In response, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has instituted new practices which force contracts to be tendered out competitively. On Monday, the Liberals passed new rules to prevent billing for snacks, food and alcohol.
But CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss said that more revelations about eHealth's spending will be made later in the coming days.
"It's far from over," he said of the scandal. "We're expecting more, and the premier is going to have his hands full."
Ontario's auditor general is also probing eHealth's books and will make public his findings by the fall.
Bliss did note that eHealth told him Tuesday that it is not hiring outside consultants any more to fill senior executive jobs.
With reports from CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss and The Canadian Press