This past January Mr Soapbox and my youngest daughter (let’s call her Mini) went on a pilgrimage to the Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Unbeknownst to them they were following in the footsteps of Ms Michele Lahey, former Chief Operating Officer of the former Capital Health Region, who’d made the trek almost six years to the day before them.
Ms Lahey was advised by her Alberta oncologist that she was cancer-free. But her boss, Sheila Weatherill, CEO of Capital Health, told her to get a second opinion from the Mayo.*
Mini Soapbox, on the other hand, had not received a clean bill of health by an Alberta medical specialist. In fact she was stuck in that limbo known as “the waiting list” with more than four months to go before she could move to the next step in the diagnostic process.
The total cost of Ms Lahey’s trip was $7,232. This included $5,215 for the Mayo Clinic, two nights at the Marriott, plus meals at one of the finest restaurants in Rochester. Ms Weatherill magnanimously offered to charge the cost of Ms Lahey’s Mayo trip to the Alberta taxpayer by letting Ms Lahey expense the costs, thereby avoiding the need for approval by the out-of-country health services committee.
Mini Soapbox’s trip to the Mayo cost about $10,000, plus an additional $5000 for air fare, five nights at the Best Western and meals at Appleby’s. It didn’t dawn on her anxious parents to apply to the out-of-country health services committee so that the bill could be passed on to Alberta taxpayers. We simply paid it out of our own little soapbox pockets.
What were they thinking?
To say that Ms Weatherill and Ms Lahey displayed astoundingly bad judgment would be an understatement. When senior executives in Alberta’s healthcare system circumvent the out-of-country review process and flaunt the rules for claiming expenses to confirm a solid diagnosis by an Alberta oncologist they demonstrate an appalling lack of respect for very system they are being paid to administer.
The Government is Accountable
The PC government’s response to this mess is even more shocking. The PCs started with the classic Kubler-Ross stages of denial and anger. They skipped bargaining, depression and acceptance of responsibility to land squarely on “it’s not my fault”.
Consider these pathetic excuses: (1) the Capital Health region no longer exists. So what? Its successor organization, Alberta Health Services, does. (2) Alberta Health Services has clear transparent expense account rules. That’s nice, how do we know they’re working? And the most telling and feeble excuse of them all from Fred Horne: (3) “I was not the Minister of Health in 2007.** True…but the government in which Minister Horne holds a cabinet post was in power in 2007 and is accountable for any and all transgressions that occurred on its watch.
This is a bedrock principle of corporate governance. If successor organizations and successor officials are not held accountable for misdeeds that occurred in the past, they would simply avoid all liability by a never-ending cycle of reorganization. Take the BP Macondo rig explosion that killed 11 people. Using this argument, BP could avoid all responsibility by simply replacing the vice president in charge of operations and rolling the culpable business unit into another corporate entity.
It doesn’t work that way for business and it cannot work that way for government.
What to do
Albertans must wait for the next election cycle before they can replace this government, but we’re not entirely helpless.
The opposition parties are pushing for a full forensic audit of healthcare expenses right back to 2005. The government argues this is not necessary because, to quote Minister Horne: “We have a single health authority with a single set of rules, open and transparent rules that allow Albertans to verify that this situation could not happen and is not happening in Alberta today”.** (With that remark Mr Horne walked into another buzz-saw—under his watch Alberta Health Services reimbursed Alison Tonge, a former AHS executive, for diagnostic services provided at a private, not public clinic).
To put it simply: All the rules, policies and procedures in the world will not instill good judgment and an ethical conscience in those who lack it in the first place.
A forensic audit of all the senior managers and executives at Alberta Health Services, including those who’ve worked their way up through its predecessor organizations, is essential to ensure that the pattern of Tory patronage has not packed the AHS with people who wouldn’t know an ethical dilemma if it smacked them upside the head.
And just to be clear, I’m not saying Ms Lahey should not be able to go to the Mayo Clinic for a second opinion. It’s her life and if she needs additional assurance so be it. But the cost of her piece of mind should come out of her own pocket book, not ours.
Mini Soapbox’s visit to the Mayo
And how is Mini? She received excellent care at the Mayo. The doctors, nurses, staff and volunteers (many of them former Mayo employees) were kind, courteous and efficient. She has a treatment plan and is well on the way to good health. Thank you for asking.
*Ms Weatherill disputes Ms Lahey’s version of the facts but took one for Team PC and paid the $7,232.
** Hansard, Apr 16, 1828.