Concerns raised at medical queue-jumping inquiry

A public inquiry into whether some Albertans were given preferential access to the health-care system resumed Monday in Calgary, with lawyers questioning the process.

Former top health official testified that MLAs called her directly for help

A former top health official testified that MLAs called her directly for help. 2:06

A former top health official told a provincial inquiry Monday that MLAs called her directly for help in navigating the health-care system.

The comments were part of a public inquiry into whether some Albertans were given preferential access to the health-care system.

Sheila Weatherill, a former CEO with the Capital Health Region, testified she called senior hospital officials to alert them of certain patients who would be coming to their facilities.

She also testified that she had frequent contact with health ministers, and MLAs would often call her directly seeking help in navigating the health-care system. 

In most cases, Weatherill said they wanted help for constituents, but occasionally it would be for themselves.  

Weatherill also said she would get calls about certain patients heading to a specific hospital. 

The former CEO also testified she would call senior hospital officials to alert them, but only to let them know of a patient's special privacy or security needs. 

When challenged by the inquiry's lawyer if she was seeking special medical care for those patients, Weatherill said, "No," explaining she just wanted officials to be aware those patients would be there. 

After Capital Health was amalgamated with other health regions in Alberta's new "superboard," Weatherill joined the board of Alberta Health Services. 

She resigned from that job last summer after the CBC revealed lavish expenses claimed by a former executive at Capital Health.

Evidence restricted

Earlier Monday, Alberta government lawyer Vivian Stevenson argued evidence should be restricted to only events that happened after 2008, when the health regions were amalgamated to form Alberta Health Services.

John Vertes, the retired judge heading up the inquiry, disagreed.

"To determine whether something is occurring, it seems to me one has to determine whether something has occurred in the past and what caused it to occur and whether the circumstances under which it is occurring are continuing," he said.

The inquiry also heard concerns Monday from Mona Duckett, the lawyer for key witness Sheila Weatherill about what is expected from her client.

Vertes said the inquiry is seeking answers and information, not trying to trick witnesses or sully reputations.

The two weeks of hearings in Calgary follow two weeks in Edmonton in December.

Key health officials testify

A number of current and former top health officials are set to appear this week, including Health Minister Fred Horne. The inquiry's lead counsel, Michelle Hollins, said the inquiry will also hear what happened when the Calgary Flames were allowed to get the H1N1 flu vaccine ahead of the general public.

A report of the inquiry's findings must be submitted to Speaker Gene Zwozdesky no later than April 30.

Redford ordered the inquiry in February after a report by the Alberta Health Quality Council on problems with the province's $16-billion health-care system.

The Wildrose Party's health critic Heather Forsyth said the inquiry is a disappointment because no concrete examples of queue-jumping or doctor intimidation have been uncovered. The millions being spent on this inquiry could have been better used in the health-care system itself, she said.