Top eHealth officials apologize for misspending
TORONTO - Taxpayers got an apology of sorts Wednesday from the chairwoman of eHealth Ontario for a scandal involving the awarding of hundreds of millions of dollars in untendered contracts to consultants.
Top officials from scandal-plagued eHealth, including Chairwoman Rita Burak, and Ron Sapsford, the deputy minister of health, were called before the legislature's public accounts committee to talk about the agency's use of outside consultants.
"The very serious issue of untendered consulting contracts at eHealth Ontario has unfortunately taken focus away from the important issues of patient care and progress towards an electronic health record," Burak told the committee.
"It has also undermined the public's confidence in eHealth Ontario, and for this, I believe the people of the province are owed an apology."
However, NDP committee member France Gelinas said she hoped Burak would follow through and actually offer an apology instead of simply saying people are owed one.
"It was nice of her to mention this, but it has yet to come," said Gelinas.
"She's absolutely right, the people of Ontario are owed -- at a minimum -- an apology, (but) I'm not sure if it should come solely from her because a lot of people are guilty in this scandal."
A recent report by auditor general Jim McCarter found Ontario got little value for the $1 billion the province has spent so far trying to create electronic health records, especially when it came to giving out lucrative untendered contracts to consultants.
Burak told the committee eHealth has trimmed the number of consultants from 385 last spring to 286 in September, and promised that number would be reduced to 160 by next spring.
Interim eHealth CEO Rob Devitt must provide written assurances to the eHealth board every month confirming that new, tighter procurement rules are being followed and contacts are being put out for tender, added Burak.
"The board over the last number of months has taken steps to ensure that it has the information that it needs to hold management accountable," she said.
"While it was unfortunate these things occurred in the past, I do feel very confident that the mechanisms we put in place will ensure that this won't happen again."
Opposition politicians tried in vain to find out if the government was trying to recoup any of the millions of dollars that were spent on consulting services, but "none of them thought it was a priority," complained Gelinas.
"When you look at everything the auditor general has revealed, there has to be money in there that is owed back to us," she told reporters.
"It doesn't seem like any effort was made to try and get our money back, which would have been the first thing I would have done."
The government is looking into only one contract, valued at $1 million, for a head-hunting firm, and then just to make sure all the work was done, not in hopes of getting money back, said Sapsford.
The deputy minister also took issue with opposition claims that all of the money spent on electronic health records so far has been wasted.
"I think it's important for all of us to recognize that that isn't the situation and the notion that a billion dollars has been wasted is simply not accurate in my view," Sapsford told the committee.
Sapsford, who oversaw the creation of eHealth and also served as interim CEO last summer, walked away from reporters following his committee appearance, refusing to answer questions about his role in the consulting contracts scandal.