Alberta spent $460K a day on health consulting

By: Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

 | Apr 08, 2014 - 4:09 PM |
EDMONTON - The Opposition Wildrose party says Alberta Health Services billed taxpayers $460,000 a day for consultants on everything from computer programming to art advice.

The party released Tuesday documents it obtained under freedom-of-information rules for more than 500 consulting contracts over an 18-month period that ended last September.

"They're symbolic of the culture of waste that is alive and well in Alberta Health Services," said Wildrose health critic Heather Forsyth.

"The front-line health workers who hold our system together continue to be starved for the resources while rich contracts are handed out to high-priced consultants for things like improving Alberta Health Services' public image."

Forsyth said the data is disturbing given the Canadian Institute of Health Information reported last week that Alberta's 85-day wait time for lung cancer surgery is the longest in the nation.

"With this kind of waste in the system it's no wonder why," she said.

The data revealed $27,000 was spent for a report on how Alberta Health Services could buff up its image.

There was $443,000 for a "unified communications project" and almost $13,000 for art consultation.

About $300,000 was spent on advice to recruit a chief financial officer.

More than $600,000 was spent on executive coaching.

More than $400,000 was spent on recruiting and budgeting consultations.

There was $70,000 for conflict mediation.

Wildrose critic Rob Anderson said three-quarters of the money, about $350,000 a day, went to IT consultants.

Anderson said he's not alleging all the contracts were frivolous, but said, "when $350,000 is spent every single day merely on IT consulting, I think it's reasonable to ask if taxpayers are getting good value for money."

Anderson said $3 million was spent on communications and marketing consultation, including money to teach Alberta Health Services staffers how best to talk to their employer, the Alberta government.

Alberta Health Services is responsible for day-to-day front-line care while Minister Fred Horne and his Health Department oversee the system and develop policy.

"Why does AHS need to hire people (to give advice) in government relations with the provincial government?" he asked. "Doesn't that seem just a little bit silly?"

A spokesman for Alberta Health Services could not be immediately reached for comment.

The organization is Alberta's largest single employer, with more than 100,000 employees and an annual payroll more than $7 billion. It was created in 2008 after the province folded all the regional health boards into one superboard.

Since then there have been repeated shakeups in the top levels of the system.

Forsyth said Albertans were promised in 2008 that one health superboard would streamline services, reduce duplication, save money and improve care.

"In reality, the exact opposite has happened," she said. "The data we are releasing today is a perfect illustration of that."

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