Sherman tells inquiry he didn't see queue-jumping first-hand

Testifying before a public inquiry, Liberal Leader Raj Sherman says he didn't see examples of preferential treatment for VIPs, despite what was reported in the media.
Earlier Thursday, Brigette McDonough said senior Capital Health officials would direct McDonough to advise doctors and nurses when VIPs had been admitted and to keep tabs on their care. (CBC)

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman never directly witnessed prominent people getting VIP health-care treatment, a public inquiry heard today.

Sherman, an emergency room physician, told the inquiry that he has heard "anecdotal stories" of patients jumping the queue for faster treatment.

The inquiry was then shown a June 2011 interview with CTV News where Sherman appeared to contradict that statement, saying he had personally witnessed preferential treatment.

"I saw it first-hand in our department," Sherman said in an interview.

"You’d get an administrator show up in the ER department, tap you on the shoulder and say ‘Hey, why is this person waiting?’ That’s the proof."

Sherman said his comments in the interview were meant to be examples of conversations he’s had with other health-care workers, and not his own experiences.

Sherman also told the inquiry that he wrote prescriptions, gave advice, and diagnosed other politicians who dropped by his legislature office, but that it was not queue-jumping.

Sherman said he helps his busy colleagues out as a "professional courtesy."

Executive says orders came from CEO

Earlier in the day, the inquiry heard that Alberta's old Capital Health region ran a culture of VIP care, with prominent patients being tracked, monitored and, in one case, receiving preferential care.

Brigette McDonough was testifying about her time as a mid-level executive in charge of critical care at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton before all health regions were merged into one superboard in 2008.

She says the office of Capital Health CEO Sheila Weatherill would direct that McDonough advise doctors and nurses when VIPs had been admitted and to keep tabs on their care.

McDonough says caregivers were told to see if the patients needed anything, or perhaps just give them an "extra smile."

But in one instance, McDonough says, on orders from Weatherill's office, she directed a prominent patient waiting in the emergency ward receive immediate attention.

Weatherill, who has not testified, stepped down from the board of Alberta Health Services earlier this year after documents revealed she allowed former executive Allaudin Merali to bill taxpayers for extravagant meals, to fix his Mercedes-Benz and to hire a butler.

Queue-jumping policy developed despite no complaints

The health inquiry heard that the Covenant Health Group spent a year developing a comprehensive policy to stop queue-jumping, even though no one in the organization had ever been asked to let a patient move up line.

Vice-president Gordon Self testified staff developed the policy in 2007 after receiving regular phone calls from health executives in other regions letting them know when prominent people were in their care.

Self says the calls were strictly a "heads-up" and that no executive ever asked them to let a VIP get faster or better health care.

But he say to be on the safe side officials decided they should have a policy.

Self told the inquiry he couldn't remember which executives made the heads-up calls.

He says all such interactions were recorded in a binder, but he was not asked to produce the binder for the inquiry.

With filed from The Canadian Press