Adding the latest chapter to the scandal-plagued eHealth Ontario saga, provincial Auditor General Jim McCarter said Wednesday that hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted while Ontario taxpayers got little, or no, value for their money.
McCarter placed blame on lack of accountability and oversight along with poor judgment on the part of former eHealth Chief Executive Officer, Sarah Kramer.
“We did not get adequate value for the billion dollars spent,” McCarter said.
He set out recommendations in the 50-page report to ensure such a system be in place and fully functioning by 2015.
Calling the initiative “worthwhile” he stated significant changes needed to be made to ensure it is developed in a more cost-effective manner.
“When we do our audits, we not only look at the dollars and cents we also look at what is going to be the impact to the services to the people in Ontario.” McCarter said.
The initial recommendation for an electronic health records database was made in 2002 and resulted in the agency known as Smart Systems for Health (SSHA) being established. In 2005, George Smitherman who was the Ontario Minister of Health at the time launched a review of the SSHA.
Although this initial investigation brought up lack of strategic planning and accountability in their report just as McCarter’s did, it also suggested that Ontario keep such an agency in order to successfully implement the electronic database.
Two years later, the database was nowhere near completion and the agency went through a period of restructuring. The SSHA was replaced by eHealth Ontario.
The amount spent on this initiative since its inception in 2002 totalled over $1 billion. Questions around the mismanagement of funds first came to light in May of this year but McCarter was initially denied access to information and his attempts were delayed on repeated occasions.
David Caplan, the Ontario health minister, resigned from his position late Tuesday, before the official release of the report and Deb Matthews was sworn in to replace him on Wednesday. He has been the only member of government to take the fall for the lack of accountability.
Tim Hudak, leader of the provincial Progressive Conservative party and Andrea Horwath, the Ontario NDP leader, called for George Smitherman’s resignation as well after the report was released. They contend that Smitherman was the minister who presided over the worst of the abuses.
EHealth’s Kramer and Dr. Alan Hudson, chairperson of eHealth, resigned in June and have not faced any criminal charges. Although Kramer was accused of obvious favouritism, McCarter maintains he did not find any evidence of fraud or criminal activity during his investigation.
“Although our staff was well aware to keep their eyes open for it, we saw no evidence that contracts were given because of what I call party politics,” McCarter said.
“My sense was that in the procurement issues where firms or individuals were getting contracts it was more based on prior relationships,” he added.