Health centre bought hockey lessons
Sep 25, 2012 / 6:31 am
The RCMP was asked to investigate a First Nations health centre in the Maritimes over allegations half a million dollars that came from contribution agreements signed with the federal government was misappropriated, The Canadian Press has learned.
A newly released document lays bare a litany of troubling claims that came to light following complaints over the alleged mismanagement of the Woodstock First Nation Health Centre in New Brunswick.
The report is but one in a wider string of alleged wrongdoings by pharmacies, nursing stations and other service providers of the federal government's health plan for aboriginals uncovered over the course of a months-long investigation by The Canadian Press.
A July 2011 special examination report by Health Canada, which covers the period from April 2006 to March 2009, says auditors confirmed all but one of the allegations against the Woodstock First Nation Health Centre, prompting the department to refer the matter to the New Brunswick RCMP's commercial crime section.
The lone unconfirmed allegation was about the confidentiality of patients' personal medical information being "breached," the report says.
"The allegations fall within the jurisdiction of, and have been forwarded to the J Division Commercial Crime Section (CCS) for their review and action deemed appropriate," Sgt. Ghislain Marcil of the RCMP's commercial crime branch wrote in a letter to the chief of Health Canada's audit and accountability bureau in December 2011.
But the force felt the matter did not fall under its purview. "It wasn't a police matter," RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Chantal Farrah explained. "It wasn't something that we could do."
Health Canada auditors allege the former director of the health centre hired his friends and family members without open competitions, job offers or work descriptions. Most of them did not even bother showing up for work, the audit alleges, while others "had a poor understanding of their duties."
"Those who were present showed up late during the day or for short periods of time," the document says. "Some of the people interviewed also declared that (blank) himself was rarely in the office."
The blacked-out name presumably refers to the health centre's former director, James Paul. He is listed as the director of the health centre in several of its newsletters from 2007, during the period covered by the Health Canada audit.
The Canadian Press obtained the 17-page Health Canada report under the Access to Information Act.
The Health Canada auditors say they could not find any proof the friends and family of the former director actually did any work. The report says the workers claimed records of the tasks they performed were kept in patients' files, but when the auditors asked to see the files, the workers refused, claiming the records were confidential.
Auditors say the total amount of misappropriated money was $532,261. Of that, they say $54,109 came from Health Canada and the rest came from other government departments.
The chief of the Woodstock First Nation says all the money has since been paid back.
"As a result of the problems which were revealed during the audit, it was agreed funds for the WFN Health Centre would be administered under the discretion of and subject to controls put in place by Health Canada," Chief Len Tomah said in an email.
Tomah declined an interview request and did not answer follow-up questions. Paul refused to discuss the matter during a brief telephone interview.
"I can only tell you that the response that you got from the chief is the only response you will get from us," Paul said. "Simply because this is not something that a person can discuss."
The audit found many more questionable expenses.
The health centre spent $1,943 to enrol the former director's daughter on a local hockey team, and another $937 for the former director's ex-wife to take their daughter to a hockey tournament, the report claims.
The health centre also spent $23,000 to put the former director relatives in a private rehabilitation centre without medical assistance, the document says.
Elders received gifts of $50 on their birthdays, it adds, adding that cost a total of $2,015 in one year alone.
The health centre's travel expenses also troubled the auditors.
"The review of unsupported travel expenses indicated that all of them are, or appear to be, misappropriated," the audit says.
"This includes travel expenses that are not supported and without evidence that the travel actually occurred, or travel expenses for activities unrelated to the health centre."
Cell phone records also showed an unnamed employee made calls from home when he was allegedly out of town on business.
The audit also alleges the former director approved expenses for his benefit or the benefit of friends and relatives.
This is not the first time the RCMP has been asked to look into allegations of wrongdoing involving the federal government's health plan for aboriginals.
The Canadian Press reported this week that the RCMP was asked to step in after staff at a remote First Nations nursing station in northern Ontario allegedly authorized expensive emergency medical flights, on the federal government's dime, to go grocery shopping in a more populated community.
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