Penny Ballem eHealth FOI only turns up one email, one PowerPoint

Post by Mike Klassen in

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According to our FOI, eHealth Ontario got this PowerPoint as part of their $33,645 payment

CityCaucus.com has received the results of a freedom of information request made to eHealth Ontario relating to the work of Dr. Penny Ballem, who began what could only be described as an "informal" arrangement with eHealth Ontario last winter to advise on a plan of action for improving diabetes care in the Province of Ontario. She worked from October 30 - December 5, 2008 for the troubled public sector organization.

Earlier reports revealed there was no contract, no procurement process involved, and no written terms as to how long Ms. Ballem would work and/or terminate her services with eHealth. All those who were responsible for hiring Ballem have either since resigned or have been fired. It was, for all intents and purposes, an arrangement based upon a verbal agreement that you could deem as "open-ended." The only noted objective was to have first stage deliverables (a plan) ready by Spring 2009.

While there have already been considerable headlines written across Canada about Ms. Ballem's $3000 per day compensation, no one has actually inquired as to what the Ontario taxpayers received for $29,250 + $4395.61 in travel and meal allowance (@ $35/day) expenses. Our FOI makes it hard to determine if eHealth received good value for the amount they spent.

Part of our FOI requested "any written documentation, meeting minutes or reports relating to the work performed by Dr. Ballem for eHealth Ontario for the period from October 2008 to January 2009." We also asked for copies of any written agreements, proposals, paid invoices from January 1, 2008 to February 2009. It was our hope that whatever we asked for was as comprehensive a record of Ms. Ballem's eHealth services as possible.

It's because of this thorough request that we had trouble believing what we received from eHealth's privacy officer. In fact, we even called up the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) Officer Wes Roberts last week to make sure we weren't missing anything. Roberts response was assured us that the records were complete, but promised to double-check. We're awaiting his follow-up.

From the records supplied to us by eHealth Ontario's FIPPA office, the only substantial written contribution of Dr. Penny Ballem during the five week period where she worked for eHealth was one twenty-three page PowerPoint document, dated November 10, 2008 (3 1/2 weeks before she quit) and titled Diabetes: Briefing Note on Early Deliverables.

Ballem was tasked as the lead on eHealth's Spring 2009 diabetes deliverable. Beginning the last week of October 2008 she would "develop, propose and launch a plan to create a diabetes registry to meet the spring 2009 commitment to government; remove dependence on implementation of an on-line, realtime registry."

From the sounds of this Health Ministry staff were getting impatient with eHealth's lacklustre output, and Ballem was their ringer brought in to produce some results.

Other notes from the FOI indicate that Ballem was being consulted by eHealth staff for various opinions.

(29-Oct-08) F/up with Penny Ballem re: draft TOR for leading Diabetes Strategy

(31-Oct-08) Distribute documentation re: Penny Ballem's point of view on disease management team

An email dated November 5th from eHealth CEO Sarah Kramer states:

Penny Ballem started last week – she'll be responsible for working out what is a reasonable and worthy effort to aim for in terms of the Spring Deliverable.

Then on November 10, Rebecca Cooper of Courtyard Group, and Executive Assistant to the CEO writes:

RPO (RPO Management, the consulting company Ballem worked for until December last year) will work with Penny on the data analysis side of the Spring Deliverable.

From all the pages we received, it appears that Ballem wrote exactly one email sent from her personal Blackberry, dated November 17th. Substantial portions of the email have been deleted as it affects "economic and other interests of Ontario."

Hi rebecca - thks for endeavouring to get sarah and I together by phone.

Some key background and messages re OMA:
Oma board is split in terms of support for Ontario MD - obviously Jonathon is keenly supportive of Ontario MD so has only a part of his supporting that.

[DELETED]

Hope this helps - am cc'ing Mike and Matt so they are all aware of what I have said - thks and Look forward to talking to sarah - thks rebecca pb

Apart from everything written above, there is no other indication of what Penny Ballem provided to eHealth Ontario at a cost of $33,465. We know she attended meetings in Toronto, and no doubt eHealth staffers benefitted from a few kernels of Ballem's wisdom. It's possible she spent many of the 78 hours she billed for on the phone with her employer (although there is no record of Ballem asking to be reimbursed for long-distance calls). It would appear she gave her consulting partners RPO the referral to provide data analysis for the eHealth diabetes project.

As for the PowerPoint authored by Ballem, it was produced at the end of two weeks of working for eHealth. There is no record of any other documentation provided by the $3000/day consultant in the final 3 1/2 weeks with eHealth, yet she billed the bulk of her hours during those final days.

This is not to say that there isn't any substance to Ballem's PowerPoint, which clearly indicates her understanding of the issues surrounding diabetes care in Ontario. But as she states in her concluding slide, she considers the objectives of her project as "feasible" – by the Spring.

We are aware that Ballem's eHealth work would be carried on by RPO Management Consultants (providing data analysis), but our FOI asked for any records of their work up until February 15, 2009. FIPPA stated that "we have confirmed that our institution does not have any records relating to RPO Management Consultants between the specified timeframe."

What's surprising about this is that Ballem began the work with eHealth during the weeks she was reportedly in negotiations with Mike Magee and Gregor Robertson to take over the City Manager's job from Judy Rogers. She would have been virtually certain of that job, which pays over $300,000. Yet she committed to a project with eHealth that was supposed to last a minimum of six months.

If it's true that RPO never worked for eHealth even 10 weeks after Ballem had left, and no succession plan to continue the diabetes project was implemented after Ballem's sudden departure, then further questions should be asked of both of eHealth and Penny Ballem how any of this amounted to a good use of Ontario's tax dollars.

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