Things got a bit sticky for Health Minister Deb Matthews on two fronts this week. Her reaction? “I’m outraged,” she said.
The first was the news that former London hospital CEO Cliff Nordal received a $1.17 million bonus on top of his salary for remaining at his post for four years overseeing both St. Joseph’s Health Care and London Health Sciences. Nordal has since retired and the two hospitals are now run separately.
Nordal was not the only one to receive a large eyebrow raising cheque. Over the past five years, according to the QMI agency, the two hospitals handed out $2.9 million in severance packages to another 11 executives.
Taking place on her constituency doorstep, Matthews said “this goes way beyond troubling.”
The second is the continuing revelations at ORNGE, the province’s Air Ambulance service. Deb Matthews congratulated Toronto Star journalist Kevin Donovan for the investigative work some thought the Ministry should have done a long time ago.
The latest revelations include questions around the choice of helicopter, which ORNGE’s own Dr. Bruce Sawadsky called the cramped interior a “high risk environment.” In all, ORNGE purchased 12 helicopters for $144 million and spent another $7.2 million to design and install the medical interiors.
While questions arise about the choice of helicopter, the manufacturer was a big contributor to ORNGE’s charitable foundation and had spent $6.7 million purchasing “marketing services” from one of ORNGE’s for-profit companies. Among the donations to the foundation were two helicopters.
Most people would wonder why a public air ambulance service is offering “marketing services” in the first place? Ron McKerlie, the civil servant the Star says now runs the air ambulance service, told Donovan that the small amount of work performed for the $6.7 million does not reflect the amount of money that was paid for it.
So why would AgustaWestland spend $6.7 million for such little service? Why, oh why?
On Friday Deb Matthews told CBC Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway that ORNGE had initially refused to cooperate with the Auditor General who was sent to investigate complaints CBC alleges were received by the Ministry a year ago.
“In December I called the senior leadership of ORNGE into my boardroom and told them that I expected them to answer the questions that were being asked (by) the Auditor General and (by) my ministry officials,” Matthews said.
While she said her number one concern was patient safety, Matthews dismissed as normal the 13 cases and three deaths being investigated at ORNGE by the Emergency Health Services Branch. It represents about half the investigations conducted annually by the branch.
She said she also sent in a forensic audit team of 25 people to find out what happened, suspended the charitable foundation, and has replaced the senior leadership of the service.
There seems to be a new attitude around the Ministry: When things look really bad, make sure you appear suitably shocked and appalled and congratulate the whistleblower. Then clean house.