Ballem eHealth Ontario connection blown open by Globe

Post by Mike Klassen in

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Penny Ballem's eHealth work is front page news across Canada

Ten days ago CityCaucus.com reported on the connection to Vancouver City Manager Penny Ballem and the eHealth scandal in Ontario. A few days later we noted that Ms. Ballem was listed as a healthcare adviser with RPO Management Consultants, but after our story the link suddenly disappeared from their website.

We began looking further into this story, submitting our own FOI to the Ontario Health Ministry, and contacting media and other sources based in Ontario. We learned that CBC's Laurie Graham scooped the eHealth story for The National, while CBC online and other Toronto media followed the story. Today, the Globe and Mail's Karen Howlett filed this story on the eHealth scandal, so we decided to give her a call.

Following our conversation, Howlett took a closer look at the eHealth documents pertaining to Vancouver's top civil servant, Mayor Gregor Robertson's hand-picked successor to Judy Rogers, Dr. Penny Ballem. What she found is, by any standard, completely shocking.

Dr. Penny Ballem, former Deputy Minister of Health in British Columbia, was working for $3000 per day as a consultant to eHealth Ontario. She billed $30,000 for 78 hours of work, or $385 per hour. And Ms. Ballem was working for eHealth Ontario without a contract.

Healthcare consumes 39% of Ontario's 2009 provincial budget, and in BC it's much higher, and growing. Ontario is struggling with wait times and resorting to "hallway nursing," just like in BC. There's no silver bullet solution to challenges facing Canada's public healthcare system, but we know that it's critical that tight budgets require prudent spending.

So how can someone who has worked as top leadership in Canada's public healthcare system, someone who knows the fiscal challenges faced by governments, see fit to charge the very same system $3000 per day for her services?

When Jim Green suggested Penny took a pay cut to come work for the City of Vancouver, he wasn't kidding. Ballem explains her rich compensation this way:

“The senior health community is pretty small in this country,” she said.

Ballem was joined in the "$3000 Per Day Club" by Michael Guerriere, a managing partner at Courtyard Group, which itself has lucrative contracts with eHealth. Guerriere and Ballem go back a long way to when she was one of the architects of BC's current healthcare system. As this newsletter from 2003 indicates, they were both directors on the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Ballem accumulated $30,000 in a couple of months working for eHealth late last year. The lack of a contract even raised alarm bells within the organization, as Howlett's story indicates:

...documents show that Penny Ballem was paid for the 78 hours over the objections of an eHealth employee who said no contract was signed for her work. The eHealth employee was told to process the payment to Dr. Ballem because Dr. Guerriere could validate her invoice, the documents show.

Howlett's story continues:

Dr. Ballem said she had no idea a staff member at eHealth had questioned her invoice for the 78 hours she worked over the three-month period ending last December. She was paid $3,000 a day, making her one of the more generously compensated consultants.

Where have we heard "untendered contract" and the sum of $30,000 before in relation to Penny Ballem? Hmm. HOLY HOGGAN, BATMAN! Of course, it was Ballem's first act as Vancouver's new City Manager to dole out two $30,000 contracts to James Hoggan & Associates for their Olympic Village spin and subverting the City's procurement rules.

How else has our $3000/day City Manager found ways to spend Vancouver taxpayers' cash? Of course, by tacking on 20 years of seniority on her hand-picked CFO Patrice Impey after she maxed out her salary scale.

Are we perhaps seeing a pattern here? Does someone like Penny Ballem have even the slightest understanding what the majority of people have to go through just to pay their annual tax bill?

We ask again, how can someone in good conscience have worked as the senior bureaucrat that designed British Columbia's health system, who is fully aware of the fiscal crisis facing this sector, charge the Ontario health ministry $3000 per day for her services?

There's someone lying on a gurney in the hallway of a Canadian hospital who might like an answer to that question.

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