Well eHealth Ontario replaces an agency that was dissolved amid complaints that it had squandered the taxpayers'' money with little visible results. It seems eHealth Canada is also squandering the taxpayers'' money or at least helping out a select view feed at the public trough but at least there are signs it is achieving results!
eHealth Chiefs gave $2M deals to associates.
VINCE TALOTTA/TORONTO STAR
Sarah Kramer is head of eHealth Ontario, which was established in 2008 to develop electronic health records for the province. (March 4, 2009)
June 04, 2009 Tanya TalagaQueen's Park Bureau
At least $2 million in untendered contracts were awarded by eHealth Ontario to long-time associates of agency chair Dr. Alan Hudson and CEO Sarah Kramer, Progressive Conservative MPPs allege.
The revelations marked the first time the growing controversy surrounding the agency has involved Hudson, the former president of the University Health Network and the key figure in Ontario's push to reduce wait times.
Documents obtained by the Tories show:
• Three contracts worth nearly $2 million with the start dates ranging from October 2008 to Jan. 30, 2009 were awarded to Courtyard Group. Michael Guerriere, a Courtyard managing partner, was the chief operating officer at the University Health Network until the summer of 2000.
• Anzen Consulting Inc. received a four-month $268,000 contract to produce a communications plan and branding strategy. Guerriere is married to Anzen's managing partner Miyo Yamashita. Documents sent to eHealth Ontario show Yamashita bills $300 an hour.
• A consultant from Anzen with the initials M.Y. billed eHealth for reading "articles from The New York Times on diabetes and electronic health records from Mike Guerriere," and for a two-hour phone call to "discuss contents of OHA speech on role of eHealth Ontario with Michael Guerriere."
• eHealth hired Emerge Communications on a contract for $192,000 dated Dec. 1, 2008, to April 30, 2009, to provide communication and stakeholder relations leadership, a contract critics charge duplicates the Anzen contract.
"Michael Guerriere is the head of the Liberally connected Courtyard Group. The contacts and close ties between Mr. Guerriere and eHealth's Alan Hudson and Sarah Kramer run very deep," charged Progressive Conservative MPP Tim Hudak.
Courtyard also was awarded contracts to work on the provincial wait-times strategy headed by Hudson, Hudak noted. Kramer worked with Hudson to develop the provincial wait-times strategy.
Prior to Kramer's arrival in November 2008, decisions about awarding contracts were made by the eHealth board, not by Hudson, said Deanna Allen, spokesperson for eHealth. "He (Hudson) has no financial interest in the companies," she said. "There is no personal gain in this for him."
EHealth Ontario had been under intense scrutiny after documents, obtained by the Progressive Conservative party under the Freedom of Information Act, showed the agency awarded about $5 million in untendered contracts in its first four months.
The documents further detailed a range of controversial expenditures and consulting fees.
The agency has argued that government policy allows untendered contracts to be awarded under conditions of urgency or to maintain continuity during an ongoing project. Before Kramer became CEO of eHealth, she served as vice-president and chief information officer at Cancer Care Ontario.
Hudson, a neurosurgeon, was brought in by the Liberal government to chair the board of eHealth Ontario, which was established in 2008 to develop electronic health records for the province.
It replaced the Smart Systems for Health Agency, which was dissolved amid criticism it squandered $647 million of taxpayers funds with little to show for it.
Hudson was president of the University Health Network for about 10 years before he left in 2000.
Guerriere did not respond to a request for an interview. Courtyard said in a statement they have written to both the auditor general and to the eHealth board to "welcome the independent reviews" that are under way.
"We have always acted in good faith and have provided expert services to eHealth Ontario that are critical to the organization's mandate," the statement said.
Yamashita and Hudson could not be reached for comment.
Premier Dalton McGuinty appealed for all sides to wait until Ontario's Auditor General Jim McCarter comes forward with his expedited review.
Health Minister David Caplan has instructed the eHealth board to conduct a third-party review of the agency. The review is being handled by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Earlier this year they performed an internal control review for eHealth at a cost of $26,250, documents show.
Bob Bell, president and CEO of the UHN, said it is unfortunate the work Kramer and Hudson have done at eHealth is being overshadowed.
"There is no question mistakes were made here. However, we are at risk of overlooking the dramatic progress made by the people at eHealth," said Bell.
The leadership of Kramer and Hudson vastly improved Ontario's wait times for cancer surgery, joint replacements, diagnostic scans, cataract surgery and cardiac procedures, he said.
Hudson yesterday received an honorary degree from the University of Toronto for creating a neurosurgical training program widely regarded as one of the best in the world and for his role as head of the push to improve Ontario's wait times for health services.