EHealth Ontario CEO Sarah Kramer's six-figure bonus was double the maximum rate allowed at the Crown-owned agency, a spokeswoman for the organization has confirmed.

ehealth-sign

EHealth Ontario first came under scrutiny last week for nearly $5 million doled out in untendered contracts, with more than half questioned over personal ties to company executives. ((CBC))

In early March, four months after Kramer started her post at the newly created agency, its board of directors approved a $114,000 bonus, on top of her $380,000 salary.

Under eHealth's regulations, however, executives are permitted to receive a bonus ranging from zero to 15 per cent of their salary, spokeswoman Deanna Allen told CBC News.

Fifteen per cent would amount to $57,000 under Kramer's current salary. However, she received a bonus worth 30 per cent.

Asked by CBC News whether she had an explanation for why Kramer's bonus was double the highest allowable rate, Allen responded, "No, I don't."

The letter notifying Kramer of her approved bonus was signed by Dr. Alan Hudson, chairman of the board of directors and the former head of Cancer Care.

Hudson and Kramer have been under fire since late last week for awarding more than $5.5 million in untendered contracts, more than half of which have raised questions about personal connections to the vendors.

Kramer has defended handing out the contracts without a competitive bidding process, citing an urgent need to get eHealth's work underway. The agency, set up last September, is tasked with creating an electronic health record system for all Ontarians by 2015.

Previous bonus 'nothing of that scale'

The scandal has reverberated beyond the walls of eHealth to previous employers of Hudson and Kramer.

to-sarah-kramer-052809

Sarah Kramer is eHealth Ontario's CEO and president. ((CNW Group/eHealth Ontario))

CBC News has learned that the head of Cancer Care Ontario issued a memo to staff on Wednesday, seeking to quell questions about Kramer's hefty bonus.

Kramer had defended her $114,000 bonus as the result of negotiations to compensate her for the bonus she missed out on in her rapid departure from Cancer Care.

"That was part of my negotiation coming over from Cancer Care Ontario. I gave two days' notice in order to get started and move very quickly and left most of the [annual] bonus on the table from my previous year's contract," Kramer told CBC.

When Ontario Health Minister David Caplan was asked earlier about her bonus, he called it a "carry-over from her previous contract."

Those statements prompted Cancer Care Ontario CEO and president Terry Sullivan to remind his staff that no employees at his provincial agency were receiving such bonuses.

"She would've received some form of bonus here, but it would have been nothing of that scale," Sullivan said.

This 'compounds the scandal': Runciman

As at eHealth, senior executives at Cancer Care are eligible for bonuses up to a maximum 15 per cent of their salary, said Sullivan.

Sullivan says Kramer received a $38,000 bonus last year while she was working as vice-president and chief information officer at Cancer Care, where she was employed from 2004 until she started at eHealth in late 2008.

He says she would have been eligible for a bonus "marginally more" than the previous year, subject to a performance review, if she had stayed at Cancer Care until the end of the fiscal year.

"She would've received some form of bonus in all likelihood, subject to her review. She did a terrific job for us as CIO," he said.

Meanwhile, interim Progressive Conservative Leader Bob Runciman said the latest development in the ongoing eHealth case is "disturbing" and renewed calls for action by the McGuinty Liberal government.

"It raises questions about honesty here. Was the minister misled? Was Ms. Kramer engaging in untruths? I think these are serious issues. It certainly just compounds the scandal where we've seen this staggering abuse of tax dollars," Runciman told CBC News.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it's another example of Kramer's "blatant disregard for the value of our public health-care dollars."

2 more consultants leave

CBC News has also learned from sources that two high-paid consultants, who were working as senior vice-presidents, left the agency Thursday.

Allaudin Merali and Donna Strating each billed about $2,700 a day for their services, plus charged the agency for regular flights from Alberta, accommodation in Toronto and per diems for meals. The total cost of the two amounted to an estimated $1.5 million a year.

No reason was given for Strating's departure. Merali, who was expected to leave in summer for a new job, is taking holidays until he starts in July, sources said.

Three other consultants left the agency late last week, including an executive assistant earning about $1,700 a day. All were told their services were no longer required.

EHealth expenses

Some of the consulting costs incurred at eHealth:

  • A $2,700-a-day consultant charging for a $3.26 muffin and tea.
  • A $300-an-hour consultant, charging for reading an e-health article given to her by her husband, another consultant.
  • Two consultants serving as vice-presidents and flown regularly from homes in Alberta.
  • A $1,700-a-day executive assistant.
  • Consultants charging to watch an eHealth episode on TVO's The Agenda and "debriefing" on the Toronto subway.

Allegations about misspending and questionable contracts have plagued the provincial agency for more than a week.

On Thursday, yet another untendered contract came to light that was worth $600,000 and given to a headhunting firm in February.

Egon Zehnder International was hired by eHealth to help replace some of the agency's fired vice-presidents and recruit three senior VPs, a whole new level of organizational structure created when eHealth rose out of the ashes of its predecessor, Smart Systems for Health Agency.

Two people hired for the new senior vice-president posts are earning more than $700,000 a year, placing them among some of Ontario's highest-paid civil servants.

EHealth Ontario was set up last September out of a merger between the Health Ministry's health program and the SSHA, an agency criticized for spending more than $600 million over six years with little to show for it.

SSHA was blasted for its lack of strategic plan and high reliance on consultants, but had begun cleaning up in recent years before Premier Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government folded it into eHealth.

If you have information on this story, send an email to yournews@cbc.ca.