Newfoundland and Labrador's new auditor general has found that a provincial health agency pays out some outrageous salaries that go above and beyond those found in the rest of government.
Terry Paddon's first report, released Wednesday, found problems with 13 different government departments and agencies, including the Centre for Health Information. And his findings raise big questions about compensation levels for that centre's staff.
"I would suggest that perhaps they've overstepped their bounds," he said.
The Centre for Health Information's main role is to spearhead the province's electronic health record intiative. It's an arm's-length agency that sets its own pay scales, and Paddon said it went too far.
He said employees were promoted without competition; they make more money than other government employees doing the same job; and their jobs are reclassified to higher pay scales more frequently than in the rest of government.
"So in a fairly short period of time you've got a relatively small group of people who have had some fairly significant increases in pay," he said.
'So in a fairly short period of time, you've got a relatively small group of people who have had some fairly significant increases in pay.' —Auditor General Terry Paddon
The small group is the centre's top staff. Through a series of reclassifications, promotions without competition, and re-negotiated contracts, the CEO and three VPs received pay raises in the range of $75,000 in just four years.
"We have instances where people over that period of time had a raise of about 119 per cent," Paddon said.
But he said it's not just those at the top. He said staff at all levels of the centre make more money than they would in core government positions.
Starting salaries at the Centre for Health Information are $16,000 higher, with the top of the scale being bumped up by as much as $35,000.
"There was a considerably higher amount of pay for actually similar work at similar jobs," Paddon said.
In its written response to Paddon's findings, the centre said it has the legal right to set its own pay scales, and that all salary increases and reviews were done in accordance with industry standards.
Issues with other departments
The auditor general also made special note of pesticide monitoring and liquor licences.
Paddon said the Environment department has had trouble monitoring companies that have pesticide licences.
In some cases, warnings and tickets were handed out, but he said it's unclear whether follow-up inspections took place before new licences were issued.
When it came to places that sell liquor, Paddon said the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation did not have an adequate plan or schedule for inspections, and that NLC reports are inadequate.
The auditor general also examined the toll-free HealthLine phone service which is supposed to help people decide whether they should visit an emergency department or a doctor.
The government has given nearly $21 million to two different companies to run the service since 2006.
Paddon, however, said the Health department has not determined whether the HealthLine has been effective in reducing hospital visits.