Are executives of the former Calgary Health Region, now comfortably occupying senior positions at Alberta Health Services, campaigning to discredit the work done by executives of Edmonton’s now-defunct Capital Health Region?
AHS President and CEO Chris Eagle announced earlier this week that, following the Allaudin Merali expense-claims scandal, an Ernst and Young audit would expand to include expense-claims from all former executives of Edmonton’s Capital Region Heath Authority. This expenses audit could include investigations into former Capital Health President and CEO Sheila Weatherhill, who recently resigned from the AHS Board of Directors, and potentially Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson, who served as Capital Health’s board chairman until 2008.
Despite calls from critics to expand the expenses audit, it will not investigate former executives from Alberta’s other now-defunct regional health authorities.
Before it was dissolved, Capital Health was widely seen as an example of innovative regional health care in Alberta for its pioneering of Health Link and creation of the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute and the Edmonton Clinic at the University of Alberta. The targeting of only Capital Health officials in this expense-audit could be seen as a campaign to discredit their many successes of Capital Health by officials from the former Calgary Health Region, which was mired in a financial deficit.
Some current Alberta Health Services senior executives who were employed or connected with the former Calgary Health Region include President & CEO Mr. Eagle, Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer Bill Trafford, Chief Operations Officer Chris Marzukowich, Chief Medical Officer David Megran, and Senior Vice President (Communications) Roman Cooney. Even the AHS senior vice-president in charge of the Edmonton zone, Mike Conroy, held several senior management positions with the Calgary Health Region.
For many years, the Calgary Health Region benefited from political proximity to both Premier Ralph Klein, and former Provincial Treasurer Jim Dinning, who later served as chairman of the health region’s board of directors. Prominent politically connected directors appointed to serve on the Calgary Health board included Premier Klein’s constituency president Skip MacDonald and Progressive Conservative Party vice-president Scobey Hartley.
In some circles, it is suspected that the creation of the provincial health superboard was a reaction to the political brazenness of former Calgary Health Region CEO Jack Davis, who was known to use media attention to leverage increased funding from the provincial government. As CEO of Capital Health, Ms. Weatherill used considerably more tact than her Calgary counterpart, relying on official channels to lobby the government.
In its final year of existence, the Calgary Health Region recorded a $85 million deficit and Mr. Davis went public to get more money from Premier Ed Stelmach’s government before the 2008 election, which threatened to make it an campaign issue. Shortly after the Tories were re-elected in 2008, the regional health authorities were dissolved and Health Minister Ron Liepert created Alberta Health Services. The dissolution of the Calgary Health Region led to Mr. Davis receiving a $4 million retirement package (Ms. Weatherill was paid about $2 million under her supplemental executive retirement plan).
Expanding the expense-claims audit beyond the Capital Health Region could reveal similarities and contrasts in expense-claims, but more dangerously for some, it could dive into the annals of PC Party patronage. The regional health boards across the province were notoriously stacked with appointees who also happened to be card-carrying members of the PC Party.
Among the prominent Tories appointed as chairman of the former regional health authorities included cabinet minister and PC election campaign manager Marvin Moore in the Peace Country Health Authority and former cabinet minister, Ernie Isley, who served as chairman of the Lakeland Health Authority, which posted a $4 million deficit in 2002.