Who Deserves A Severance Package: Ms Neala Barton or the AHS Executives?

 “de-mur: to make objection; especially on the grounds of scruples”—Dictionary.com

Neala Barton has the uncanny ability to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and emerge unscathed. She was a communications staffer for Ontario health minister David Caplan—until he resigned over the eHealth scandal. She moved on to become Dalton McGuinty’s press secretary—until he resigned to avoid the Ornge air ambulance scandal and a political crisis triggered by his cancellation of two gas plants.

Ms Barton

Ms Barton then joined Alison Redford’s team as press secretary. She lasted one year before the whole thing went pear-shaped.

You’d think that all these unexpected career interruptions would make a girl jaded and cynical. Not so with Ms Barton.

Unlike her colleagues, Ms Barton demurred when offered a severance package estimated to be in the $100,000 range. Why? Because she was in negotiations for another job when Ms Redford resigned and thought she didn’t need or deserve the money.*

This was a remarkable decision given that the government was obligated at law to pay her severance.

Pause for a moment to consider Ms Barton’s decision in light of another severance scenario–the the Alberta Health Service (AHS) executives who got the boot when Health Minister Horne “rightsized” the organization. Wouldn’t it have been nice if he’d gotten the “sizing” right the first time and spared us the chaos and expense, but I digress…

The Alberta Health Service Annual Report 2013-2014 states that five former AHS executives received a total of $2.4 million in severance. Note, this amount excludes “soft” severance which is disguised as paid leave and consulting contracts. The value of these arrangements would likely boost that number by another million dollars.

The ineptitude of Minister Horne in creating this situation is breathtaking.

Soft severance is still severance

When Dr Chris Eagle was stripped of his CEO role and “moved to the position of Special Advisor to the Official Administrator” for 12 months, he didn’t get severance. However the “special advisor” job was created out of thin air, there was no change to his $580,000 pay packet and he kicked off his 12-month stint with a 3-month paid “sabbatical leave”.**  It’s a little difficult to characterize this arrangement as anything but severance.

Dr Eagle was replaced as CEO by Mr Duncan Campbell. Mr Campbell had been the CFO.  He replaced Allaudin Merali who held the CFO position from May to Aug 2012 when he was fired for mismanaging his expenses with the Capital Health Region. (Mr Merali wants the severance he’d been promised and is suing AHS for $6 million.)

Mr Campbell lasted less than a month in the CEO’s office before he was punted. He went on a 4-month paid leave and was awarded a $500,000 consulting contract with AHS. AHS threw in $43,000 to cover his “relocation” expenses. Not bad for someone who’d been CFO for 6 months and CEO for less than one month.

The severance jackpot

The jackpot goes to Dr David Megran who was on “secondment from the University of Calgary” when he was fired.***

Dr Megran

The term “secondment” means being on temporary assignment to another department or organization. A “seconded” employee usually maintains his position in his home organization and is paid by his home organization which retains liability for the employee in the event he gets fired by the host organization.

For some bizarre reason, AHS turned this logic on its head. AHS describes its relationship with Dr Megran as a “secondment” but for all intents and purposes it treated Dr Megran like an employee. It paid Dr Megran’s salary and put Dr Megran into its benefits plan including its executive pension plan. The result—a severance payout totalling $730,000 and a lump-sum pension payout of $1.06 million.

Dr Megran didn’t miss a beat. He simply picked up his $2.2 million cheque and returned to work at the University of Calgary.

Whoever negotiated Dr Megran’s contract should be shot.  

A gift horse

Far be it from me to blame the AHS executives for accepting the hundreds of thousands of dollars they were legally entitled to collect upon termination simply because Health Minister Horne and his predecessors were idiots.

But Ms Barton’s decision to look a gift horse in the mouth made me wonder. Is it easier to turn down $100,000 than $2.2 million? Does it make a difference if you’re young and starting out in your career or established and nearing the end? Is this a moral question as well as a legal one?

One thing is for sure. We’ll be seeing more of Ms Barton. She’s working as a communications officer for the organizing committee for the 2015 Pan-Am games. They’ve already lost a CEO and two senior VPs and the Ontario Tories smell a scandal.

Tory MPP Rod Jackson accused the Ontario Liberals of mismanaging the Pan Am games and railed on about Ms Barton who, he says “shows up in gas plants, Premier Redford scandals and now Pan Am”…as if these misguided decisions were somehow her fault.****

Given the Tory vitriol one would hope that if the Pan-Am job ends badly Ms Barton will be offered a decent severance package. And she takes it.

Because if anyone deserves to walk away with a windfall, it’s Ms Neala Barton.

*Calgary Herald, July 5, 2014, A5

**AHS Annual Report 2013-2014, page 146, note (t)

***AHS Annual Report 2013-2014, page 145, note (o)



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17 Responses to Who Deserves A Severance Package: Ms Neala Barton or the AHS Executives?

  1. Julie Ali says:

    Hi Susan,

    I am curious if these folks who got these big bucks are all Tory buddies.
    I mean why else would they get such sweet deals–not only for severances but also for sole source contracts?
    I see the contract that was offered to Duncan Campbell– as a sole source contract. I also think of it as a very corrupt deal. Why was it allowed? Is he a Tory insider?
    I feel a bit more sympathetic to Mr. Merali.
    He doesn’t seem to be part of the inner circle.
    I can now understand Mr. Merali’s gnashing of the teeth with reference to his situation. He isn’t getting plum pudding but the crusts.
    The folks who are getting the plummiest pudding seem to be associated with the University of Calgary and don’t seem to have required getting this sort of payback for doing nothing.
    Considering that Dr. Megran–as an employee of the University of Calgary who was going back to his original job in the first place— is double dipping (even million-dipping) for no good reason that I can see other than the possibility that he –too is a Tory buddy–well I feel Mr. Merali was indeed used as the diversionary example of an entitled AHS executive when in reality he is small potatoes compared to these high flyers.

    It is hard for me to accept this sort of bad contract making considering that the government and AHS presumably has bright lawyers who do know how to ensure that the public purse won’t get ripped off but still went ahead and designed these palatial contracts. The only reason they have these sorts of contracts in my mind is because the AHS folks and the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta are in favor of these rich deals. I mean the Horne guy is in charge of AHS now isn’t he? He could stop all of this if he really wanted to but he himself was a part of the entitlement culture at AHS before he became the health minister and so why would he stop the fun and games on the taxpayer’s credit card?

    All these entitlement stories are very annoying for citizens like myself— who are not at the peak of the AHS hierarchy.
    Now in contrast to the obscene payouts to the top echelon of the AHS pyramid of corruption— we have–in my family– the sad story at my handicapped sister’s poor respiratory care at an extended care. When my sister got to the Good Samaritan extended care at Millwoods four years ago, she was fortunate to experience the first effects of Patient-Care-Based-Funding which was introduced in 2010.

    Immediately on implementation of this cost saving measure by AHS, my sister was unable to get a BiPap machine replacement. I had to yap day and night to both the provincial and federal governments to first figure out who replaces this life saving device and to get the Tories to get the extended care that was strapped of cash —- to get a replacement.

    Fast forward to 2014, and I have the same situation getting her a mask replacement. I don’t even know if the mask was changed in the four years she has been at the facility because they do not associate masks with patients–they order generic supplies and you hope that they match up with patients. I have just received information that the continuity of respiratory care at the facility was interrupted. All this sort of information is piling up and I am confused. Why is it that the PCBF that AHS is in love with is resulting in such poor outcomes for vulnerable patients in extended care situations? Why is it that I am yapping day and night about these matters to the Tories and AHS and yet there is no sort of response to explain why there is major dollars for top dogs and nothing for the Good Samaritan extended care facility.
    The patients at this extended care get one respiratory therapist for one shift. That’s it.
    I asked why.
    No money.
    Oddly enough when I ask Mr. Horne, Mr. Bhullar (my sister is on AISH) and John Cowell how come they have millions of dollars for the big wigs and not for the most vulnerable citizens of Alberta—they don’t answer me.

    Could it possibly be— that being Tory family and friends entitles you to the big bucks?
    But if you are handicapped, poor and powerless–you just better hope you don’t die under the fiscal constraints of PCBF at an extended care?

    • Julie, this whole thing is a gong show. Health Minister Horne was the first to defend these ridiculous employment contracts including bonuses by saying it was the only way AHS could compete in the marketplace to get the brightest and the best. Then when the brightest and the best couldn’t deliver on Horne’s promises and the public pushed back Horne flip-flopped. He demanded that the AHS Board cancel the bonuses written into the contracts that he himself was responsible for (and yes, Horne does control AHS, read the Annual Report p 132, note 22 which says so). When the AHS Board refused to breach these contracts he fired them all and hired Janet Davidson to be the official administrator for a nanosecond before making her his deputy minister and paying her $664,000 (see Climenhaga post Feb 1/14)…an amount far in excess of what Alison Redford paid to any of her staff. Horne now trumpets the fact that the new compensation system sets salaries at the “mid-range for public sector healthcare executives in Canada”. So last year it was OK to pay on the private sector scale but now that the public is fed up it’s not.

      Your observation about the tight relationship between the U of C medical school, private clinics, AHS and the Department of Health is bang on. My friends who follow healthcare closely refer to this as the “Calgary cabal”. They may be on to something.

      The situation you describe with your sister’s respiratory care sounds horrendous. More Albertans need to know that the PC government is failing miserably in caring for its most vulnerable citizens while at the same time taking care of themselves and their friends with cushy employment contracts and sole sourced contracts. I haven’t heard anything of substance on this topic from any of the PC leadership candidates, have you?

  2. lulumargaret says:

    “Whoever negotiated Dr Megran’s contract should be shot.” It’s like you are walking around in my head.

    • Lulu,
      Julie pointed out that AHS must have some decent lawyers. One would hope they pointed out the problems with Dr Megran’s contract. Most likely they were overruled by someone higher up on the food chain. We need a new food chain!

  3. Jane Walker says:

    ” …. hired Janet Davidson to be the official administrator for a nanosecond before making her his deputy minister and paying her $664,000 …” This is coming from public funds earmarked for CARE and SERVICES!! This is a monthly salary of $55,000 or a weekly compensation of $13,000. Would THIS raise some questions?? We seem to be blunted when it comes to annual compensation #s.

    The arrogant attitude toward the fiscal stewardship responsibilities of both elected officials and executive level public servants is nauseating. Who will search out the moral compass that guides the allocation of our resources?? It must be either lost or clouded with something; it’s not shining through!

    How much maintenance work could have been done on the Misericordia Hospital for $55000? How many hours of nursing care in the ER? How many MRIs in the public system? Grrrr…. My little old retired neighbours and I are paying these salaries and our services are being cut!!! Does this make sense?? If so, to whom?
    Susan, you are continually ‘walking around in MY head’!

    • Jane, the story of Horne’s incompetence with respect to the AHS “rightsizing” continues to astound me. The Official Administrator, Dr Cowell told The Edmonton Sun (Jan 31, 2014) that none of the 80 VPs who were impacted by the “rightsizing” would be laid off or get a pay cut (in other words 80 new jobs were created for them out of thin air), the new pay range for senior managers is $168,000 — $515,000 a year and after the job evaluations are completed some of the demoted VPs may get a pay hike.

      Let’s do the math. Five VPs were terminated (cost $2.4 million) and 80 were “re-titled”. These “re-titled” senior managers will get a minimum of $168,000. The total cost of “rightsizing” is $13,440,000 (80 X $168,000) plus $2,400,000 in severance = $15,840,000.

      I’ve worked in the private sector for decades. Here’s how “rightsizing” is supposed to work. A bunch of jobs are deemed redundant. The incumbent is either (1) terminated with a package or (2) asked to accept a lesser position with a drop in pay. If the employer is feeling kind, the employee may be “red circled” which lets him keep his higher pay for a limited period of time, not indefinitely. This allows the employee to adjust to living on a reduced salary.

      I have never seen a “rightsizing” exercise that created 75 more highly paid senior manager jobs at the same or higher pay than you had at the outset.

      Nice job Mr Horne!

  4. Elaine Fleming says:

    The government has gotten itself into a tricky situation. With questionable appointments of AHS “executives” and exorbitant salaries, benefits and severance pay-outs, it makes it very difficult for them to plead poverty and say health costs are out of control.

    And, elaborating on “questionable appointments” I have over many years, seen various executive appointments announced by AHS/Capital Health with accompanying bios, and wondered what exactly were these individuals’ skill sets? The next questions that entered my mind was, what exactly was the position for and what services were they going to provide for their outstanding salaries and benefits? A pediatric heart surgeon- I can get that. Dietary staff, physiotherapists, nurses for sure. Nursing home beds, mental health therapists- yes. I’m with Jane on responsible and appropriate allocation of resources.

  5. Carlos Beca says:

    I rarely like to comment on this issue because it clearly reminds me of how distorted our view of equal rights is and of how well trained we all are to accept this vision of class superiority without much noise at all.
    Mr. Horne is purely out of reality and I would dare to say, not competent enough to run a convenience store, never mind our provincial Health Care System. Somehow he must have some PC party secrets up his sleeve to be able to keep running it and not being kicked out.
    This is all the reflection of a society that self-entitles being first world class when in fact we are not. The levels of corruption and mismanagement in our provincial government are more like the ones I have had the pleasure to be exposed in South America.
    While our senior Health executives, along with their PC party friends keep getting great pensions, the cuts continue in seniors care and other departments. Examples abound in your blog. Standards keep moving down while we all sing the ‘We have the best health care in the world’. For example, I just recently had eye surgery to remove a growth in my eye. In the middle of surgery I complained that I could feel a lot to just be told that the surgery was almost over and that somehow the people who were responsible for the type of local anesthetic and how deep, did not do a good job!! This by the way is only local anesthesia and one can see what is going on. I felt every single stitch with a lot of discomfort. Furthermore this is not a new procedure. I had a similar one to the same eye and the same issue in 1973 and I felt absolutely nothing.
    I just heard on the CBC that 4 thousand people now die in our hospitals from medical mistakes – 4 thousand a year.

    • Many great points here Carlos. Let me pick up on the one related to 4000 Canadians dying from medical mistakes. I’d like to focus on hospital borne infections.

      The Quality Improvement section of the AHS Annual Report (p 64) says that AHS strives to improve quality using “new evidence-based practices”. A key factor in quality improvement is infection prevention and control. The report notes that: “Cleaning hands before every patient interaction is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and infections.” It says that hand hygiene compliance rates have improved by 32% over the last two years. The compliance rate is now at 66% (up from 50% two years ago).

      While this is good progress it gave me pause. This is hardly a “new evidence-based practice”. We’ve known this for 167 years. In 1847, Dr. Semmelweiss discovered he could stop the spread of fatal infections among patients if doctors washed their hands and changed into fresh lab coats between examinations. What caused compliance at AHS facilities to drop to 50% two years ago? Is this another unintended consequence of cuts to the healthcare budget that results in doctors and staff feeling like they’re “too busy” to stop and wash their hands between patients? And once they stop hand washing, they get out of the habit and we need to re-train them in the basics of good patient care.

      Another reason why we need to take a serious look at how government cuts to healthcare and other social service budgets are actually increasing costs, not reducing them.

      PS Your eye surgery experience sounds horrendous. I hope everything is OK now.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Susan, thank you for the details on the washing hands process. It is to me absolutely absurd that doctors and nurses have to be told to wash their hands. I actually witnessed a patient in the same ward as my mother in law, ordering a doctor to wash his hands before he touched her. This doctor had seen 2 other patients in the same ward and never even used gloves or these new cleaning liquids. I want to believe your suggestion of no time is an issue but I am not sure anymore. You go to a doctor or a specialist these days and in 9 out of 10 cases they have not even read any of the documents in the folder. It is quite shocking. I am not surprised at all with what is happening. We make these choices and we pay the price for them. We are all convinced we are saving money but, like you, I have serious doubts.
        My eye is ok, thank you for your concern. I already had serious questions about the Health Care System in general, but recently with the care I got myself and what I have witnessed for my in-laws, I truly avoid going to a Hospital and I only get any kind of treatment if I seriously need it. The only reason I did the eye surgery is because a growth was covering my pupil and it was affecting my vision. I cannot understand that any specialist, can start a surgery without checking if the anesthetic provided to the patient is appropriate. Just saying that the team before them did not do a good job sounds like total lack of responsibility to me. We are so specialized and so full of papers going back and forth, so that everyone is covered for insurance purposes, that we forget about the real details. We forget that there is a person there suffering the real consequences. It was a lesson for me and I no longer do anything in the hospital without asking the doctors what is going to happen and make sure they know my concerns. I know this may sound paranoid, but believe me, if you have to be involved these days, do not make any assumptions. Our Health Care System is good but it is not at all what we believe it to be.

  6. Elaine, I’m sure Fred Horne’s response to our concern about the number of AHS executives and their lavish compensation would be that even if he cut the (bloated) bureaucracy to the bone it would be nothing more than a drop in the bucket. The Health department’s budget is $18.3 billion; $10.7 billion or 59% of that goes directly to AHS. So a $12 to 15 million savings is peanuts.

    Fine, but the a bloated bureaucracy is indicative of a flabby organization. A flabby organization is costly and inefficient. Both AHS and the Fred Horne’s Health Ministry need a major overhaul, starting with a side by side comparison of what each of these bureaucracies are doing and looking for areas of overlap and duplication. For example what is the $78 million allocated for “ministry support services” for? Is this AHS people being paid to talk to Horne’s Alberta Health staff? Come to think of it, do we need an AHS at all? Could the AHS bureaucracy be rolled into the Ministry of Health and downsized? Just askin’.

    My point here is unless there’s some way of making the government accountable for AHS as well as Alberta Health, these excesses will continue…all to the detriment of healthcare delivery. And Alberta, the richest province in Canada, will continue to place in the middle of the pack when it comes to healthcare delivery.

  7. Carlos Beca says:

    Well I was very conservative – here is the article

    It is 24 thousand a year. this is amazing to me. Can you imagine the grief of loosing someone for mistakes that can be avoided as easily as by washing your hands?

    • Carlos, back on the topic of your eye surgery. I don’t know whether you got it done in a hospital or a non-hospital facility but I wanted to pass along the Auditor General’s findings with respect to non-hospital facilities. AHS farms out a number of surgical procedures including ophthalmology to non-hospital facilities and pays them a fee for the use of equipment, supplies and nursing staff. The doctors are paid a regular fee for service just like they’d get if they did the surgery in a hospital.

      In 2012-13 AHS had 50 contracts with non-hospital facilities. The contracts were worth $23 million. All but $2.1 million of these contracts fell under the Health Care Protection Act. The HCPA requires AHS to monitor how these facilities perform, BUT the AG found that AHS failed to properly monitor the facilities’ performance (this is the second time the AG made this finding). So AHS has no idea whether patients are satisfied with their treatment or whether it’s provided on a cost-effective basis.

      Then to make matters worse, the $2.1 million of contracts that fall outside of the HCPA do not require any monitoring at all.

      The AG said there was no rhyme nor reason to why one contract was classified as an HCPA contract (which required AHS monitoring) and another was not.

      Bottom line, monitoring of non-hospital surgical facilities is a black hole and leaves a lot to be desired. I have two suggestions: (1) a patient should ask the doctor whether the operation he’s going to perform will be done at an HCPA or non-HCPA facility. At least then the patient would know whether the facility is under an obligation to report performance to AHS and can make an informed decision about his surgery and (2) a patient who has received poor treatment in any facility (HCPA or non-HCPA) should file a complaint with the College of Physicians and Surgeons because this is the only way to ensure that Albertans receive the quality of service they’ve been promised by AHS and the Minister of Health.

      Thanks for the link to the 24,000 injured in hospital. The article said that the majority of these were drug or infection related. This is why we all avoid hospitals like the plague (how ironic).

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Susan thank you for the information on the in hospital versus the non in hospital type surgeries. I had a vague idea about this but your post clarified it quite well. Unfortunately more shocking news. No wonder we keep making bad decisions over and over. Most major changes are based on what it seems to be wrong data. It makes me wonder what is it that our Health Care Services really knows about what is going on in the real world. My limited experience tells me very clearly that we are spending way more than what we need because there is abuse, repetition and some of those ingrained bad habits that just serve some people but not the real patients. I have no doubts now that if this province was to look in depth to our Health Care System, we would be horrified.

        My eye surgery was done in the University Hospital but I do not believe that the doctor works with them. He has his own clinic and seems to be on one of those contracts you have mentioned.

        I thought a lot about what you said on surgery satisfaction and outcomes. Your comment made me laugh because there is nothing in the system to monitor that. In my case, I had surgery, I went back to take the stitches and nothing else happened. The doctor that took the stitches did not say anything and did not ask me anything. It was as if, it is done considered success and see you later. I did not mention anesthesia because I had already mentioned during surgery. I had not taken any drug so I was perfectly conscious of what was happening. If they did not seem concerned during surgery, why would they be after?

        You may ask – why not a complaint? Well I have been there and the processes are so darn convoluted and, in my opinion, purposely complicated, that they never go anywhere. I would not be surprised with questions like ‘At exactly what time did the first uncomfortable stitch happened?’
         
        As far as the 24 thousand deaths, you are right that they were drug and infection related, but that, in my opinion, makes it more relevant to what we were discussing because it demonstrates a lack of good medical procedures in hospitals, things as simple as hand washing. If you go to a hospital these days and just do a survey on what is happening, you would probably be amazed on how many people actually do not wash hands at all. I did that myself and I never saw anyone washing hands.

        Anyway I hope I am not complicating this conversation. These issues are never black and white as you very well know, but the bottom line is that I was not happy with what happened and I now have a different attitude in respect with my communication and my questioning when dealing with any doctor. This idea that doctors somehow are superior to the rest of us and in many ways shielded from real conversation does not apply to me anymore. The idea that I fully trust their judgment is gone out the window a long time ago. If they cannot give me a good reason for whatever they suggest, it is a no go.

        Finally I find that I am getting way better information on medical sites on the Internet than with the doctors I have talked to (when they actually talk). I also listen to a podcast from the BBC called ‘Inside Health’ which has given me a better understanding on some very interesting medical issues which we all face sooner or later.

      • Great points Carlos, particularly the one about patient satisfaction. We’re experiencing this first hand with my mother’s care in BC. We’re trying to sort through a number of medical issues and have talked with at least 4 doctors involved in her care, some of whom are filling in for others who are on vacation. Nevertheless what amazes me is their poor communication skills. One of her doctors prattled on in medical terms that even I couldn’t understand. So how does he expect my 86 year old Hungarian mother to figure it out. As she so eloquently put it “I don’t speak Latin”.

        The other thing that frustrates me is that this so-called team of doctors (they all work in the same small clinic) don’t appear to consult with each other about anything. They read her file as we’re sitting there in the examining room and then they say things like “I don’t know what Dr X discontinued her medication”. Well we don’t know either so why doesn’t he just ask Dr X and find out before we get there.

        I too have a different tactic when I visit a doctor. I start by telling them I’m a lawyer (in the hope that this might make them a little more careful with me and my family) and I ask them to explain absolutely everything, many times if necessary until I understand what they’re talking about. And like you I challenge them when they want to do something and can’t explain why.

        Doctors have complained about patients who rely on Dr Google but quite frankly it’s often better than they are.

  8. Carlos Beca says:

    My goodness I laughed reading your reply. Not because the issue is funny but you have very similar experiences. I also have an 86 year old mother in law and she also does not understand Latin.

    Frustration is the right word. It is also mind boggling. I have had contact with different doctors throughout my life and I only remember one that could actually talk and write properly.

    Your description of your mother’s prescription is, I believe, as common as dandellions. Many people are experiencing what we are but the government is very quick on ‘We have the best Health Care System in the World’ and that is it. I know we have a good health care system but I am not one that likes to compare and then just justify not doing anything to make it better. If with the money we spend we can improve it, why not? Why not make things simpler and kinder to people.

    I like your strategy of telling them you are a lawyer, I am sure they get impressed or at least pay more attention. I use one that many people do not approve but it works for me. I call it a levelling strategy. It works this way – If the doctors call me Carlos, I call them by their first name as well and without the Dr. If they call me Mr. Beca, then I call them Dr. (and their name). It works wonders.

    I totally agree with you about Dr. Google. If they communicated with patients as they should, I am sure they would not have to complain about patients coming to them with Internet information.

    • Carlos I like your strategy of calling the doctors by their first name if they call you by yours. It levels the playing field which is as it should be. Either that or we all learn to speak Latin!

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