Lynn Redford, sister of Alberta Premier Alison Redford, attended Progressive Conservative party events at public expense and helped organize an annual Tory barbeque while she was a senior executive at the Calgary Health Region.
Expense-claim records, obtained by CBC News through Freedom of Information, show Redford attended a Conservative party annual general meeting in Edmonton, and several fundraisers, including premier’s dinners and a golf tournament fundraiser for Tory MLA Dave Coutts.
The documents show she attended these functions, all, or in part, at the health region’s expense, claiming fundraiser tickets, travel costs, mileage, hotel rooms and even more than $200 for liquor for a Tory barbeque.
Redford also expensed a breakfast with her sister Alison, a couple months after she was first elected in 2008.
Under Alberta law, it is illegal for publicly-funded institutions, including the Calgary Health Region, to make political donations.
As I wrote on August 23 2012, 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. Numerous political archetypes with close connections to the PC Party were appointed by the government to serve on the health authority’s board of directors.
This summer, following the implementation of an audit to investigate allegations of misspending by an executive of the former Capital Health Region, the government and Alberta Health Services initially resisted expanding an audit to other former regional health authorities.
Limiting the investigation to the former Edmonton health executives fuelled speculation that executives of the former Calgary Health Region, now comfortably occupying senior positions at AHS, were campaigning to discredit the work done by executives of Edmonton’s former Capital Health Region.
Following the expense claims controversy, current AHS President and CEO Chris Eagle, a former Calgary Health Region executive, reimbursed the provincial health authority for expenses including airfare and liquor.
It is suspected that the creation of the provincial health superboard was a reaction to the political brazenness of former Calgary Health Region CEO and Klein-loyalist Jack Davis. As the Calgary Health Region recorded a $85 million deficit, 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.
Soon after the Tories were re-elected in 2008, the remaining regional health authorities were dissolved and Alberta Health Services was created.
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 Eagleannounced 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.
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).
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.
It works like this: when the number of patients in the Emergency Room hits a magic number, patients are put on stretchers and pushed to wards in the hospital where they are placed in hallways or in rooms (in many cases with patients already admitted). It does not take a health economist or health care professional to understand that pushing patients away from the Emergency Room into hallways is not a solution to this problem. This “out of sight, out of mind” approach may decrease the number of patients physically waiting in the Emergency Room, but it does not do much to actually increase patient care. It also does not deal with the root causes of why Emergency Room wait times have increased in Alberta.
Anyone who has had the misfortune of having visited an Emergency Room will see that there is a serious under-staffing problem. In many hospitals, doctors, nurses, and other health professionals are being run off their feet trying to make up for a lack of proper staffing levels. If new beds are to be introduced, so must an appropriate number of new staffing positions. Patient care will only be improved if there are medical and nursing staff to accompany new beds.
The challenges facing Emergency Rooms go beyond just Emergency Rooms.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to find a family doctor in Alberta. This challenge and limited access to urgent care centres in many communities leaves Emergency Rooms as the only option for many Albertans. When fully operational, the new East Edmonton Health Centre could provide a good model of the kind of accessible family and urgent care that people are currently turning to the Emergency Rooms for.
The reality is that many of the problems faced by our health care system have been created by constant political restructuring of the administration of the system over the past 15 years.
As I wrote last week, stability is something that has been lacking in our public health care system since Ralph Klein became Premier in 1992. Since 1995, the administration of our system has been changed from around 200 hospital and local health boards before 1995 to seventeen, to nine in 2001, and then one centralized province-wide health authority in 2008.
As the health authorities were being restructured in the 1990s, over 10,000 health care staff were laid off or had their jobs downgraded, which has led to much of the staffing issues Albertans are witnessing today.
Current Minister Gene Zwozdesky has tried to put a kinder face on the Health & Wellness portfolio, but the last major restructuring, the creation of AHS took place under the guidance of Minister Ron Liepert in 2008.
In what some political watchers believed to be an extension of a public battle between Calgary Health Region CEO Jack Davis and the provincial government, Minister Liepert dissolved the nine remaining regional health boards and centralized them under AHS (Mr. Davis received a $4 million retirement package when his position was eliminated). Minister Liepert, who was recently criticized by his former parliamentary assistant Dr. Sherman, was not known for his diplomatic skills while serving as Health Minister:
Created only months after the March 2008 provincial election, there was no mention of intentions to dissolve the regional health authorities anywhere in the PC Party election platform. The largest overhaul of Alberta’s health care system was not made in consultation with Albertans, but in closed-door meetings.
As Albertans saw with the bankruptcy of the Health Resource Centre in Calgary, the flagship for the private health care industry in Canada, introducing more private-for-profit health care is not a viable alternative. I do not believe that this is a solution to improving our health care system. The solution is to fully support and provide stability to a public system that is accessible and accountable to the general public.
While I am disappointed that the Wildrose has taken a negative tone when talking about health care, it has helped remind many Albertans about why they support a public health care system and why it is important to our society.
“Alberta Health Act”
Eclipsed by the past month of health care news is Bill 17: the Alberta Health Act, which is up for third reading this week. This Act is vacuous on details, but as enabling legislation it will allow for more decisions about our health care laws to be made in closed-door cabinet meetings, rather than in the public and open debate on the floor of the Assembly.
As we have learned from the past month and the Alberta Health Services experience, our health care system needs decision makers who are not driven by private agendas behind closed doors, it need openness, transparency, and stability. It needs some TLC.