Former Edmonton health CEO repays Albertans for private care
Former CEO Sheila Weatherill cut $7,800 cheque for colleague's private health care
A former Alberta health official who signed off on private care for a colleague at public expense has repaid the money.
Sheila Weatherill, the former Chief Executive Officer of Edmonton's Capital Health Region, has notified the province by letter that she will send it a cheque for $7,800.
The money will cover the funds paid for Michele Lahey, who was a Capital Health vice-president at the time, to get a second opinion on her cancer tests at the prestigious private Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in 2007.
Lahey has said it was Weatherill's idea to send her to the Mayo.
In the letter to Health Minister Fred Horne, Weatherill said while she did not agree with Lahey's explanation of events, having Capital Health pay for her assessment was "an error."
"As CEO at the time, I take responsibility for this extraordinary event and I apologize to the people of Alberta."
Horne appeared relieved today after telling reporters Wednesday there was likely no way to recover the money.
"I think it's the right thing to do and I think that's what Albertans expect."
Horne said on Thursday that Weatherill sent the cheque without any prompting, including six years' worth of interest.
Horne seeks advice on recovering improper expenses
Weatherill's letter came the same day Horne wrote to Allan Wachowich, former chief justice of Alberta Court of Queen's Bench, for advice on recovering the money.
Horne asked Wachowich to prepare a report on whether the government can recover any improper expenses claimed by and paid to employees of the former regional health authorities or current or former employees of Alberta Health Services.
Weatherill also went on to praise Alberta's health-care system and its doctors.
"I regret the implication that this event may suggest and I apologize to Alberta health professionals who may have taken offense," she wrote in the letter.
Weatherill was CEO of the Capital Health Region until it, and all other health regions were merged in 2008 into the current Alberta Health Services, or AHS, superboard.
CEO resigned over expense scandal
Weatherill was a board member of AHS until last August. She resigned shortly after AHS chief financial officer Allaudin Merali tendered his resignation over an expenses scandal.
An audit found that Merali, while the chief financial officer for Weatherill at Capital Health, had racked up almost $370,000 in questionable expenses. There were lavish dinners and parties, and bills to taxpayers to fix and upgrade his Mercedes Benz. He also hired a butler.
Weatherill signed off on Merali's expenses.
Receipts released by the Wildrose show that Lahey helped Merali with hosting costs during that time period. There are also thousands of dollars from 2005-06 for expensive meals, wines, exotic cheeses, hotel stays, gift baskets and charitable donations tied to her work.
Opposition leaders say they're being stymied trying to get Weatherill's expenses released under freedom of information legislation and say it's time Horne clear the air.
Wildrose calls for forensic audit
"How about a forensic audit into all the expenses of the health regions going back to the Merali era?," Wildrose leader Danielle Smith told the house.
Horne said anyone who wants that information can get it under the freedom of information rules. But he said he can't help with that.
"I'm not the party that makes a determination about the release of information under that (freedom of information) act," said Horne.
NDP Leader Brian Mason labelled the answer weak.
"That act is to get information that the government wants to give," replied NDP Leader Brian Mason.
"It doesn't prevent the government from giving it."
Horne and Redford have said new rules introduced last fall tighten up spending and oversight to prevent a repeat of any lavish or improper spending by AHS.
- Sheila Weatherill is the former chief executive officer of Capital Health. An earlier version of the story incorrectly called her the chief operating officer.Apr 18, 2013 4:22 AM MT
With files from Canadian Press