Top administrators at the IWK Health Centre knowingly left information off public expense reports, despite concerns from staff members, and blocked the release of emails, according to documents obtained by CBC News.
The information is included in 350 pages of emails provided by the Halifax hospital to CBC News as part of a freedom of information request into an ongoing expense scandal. In recent weeks, the hospital's CEO resigned and the chief financial officer was placed on paid leave.
The emails show that chief financial officer Stephen D'Arcy was involved in discussions as early as October 2016 about the reporting of then-CEO Tracy Kitch's expenses. At the time, the hospital was getting ready to prepare Kitch's expenses to be posted publicly for the first time, as per new provincial regulations.
D'Arcy wrote in an email to Kitch's former executive assistant that he should be the one to review her monthly expense and credit card reports — "although this doesn't appeal to my inherently lazy nature," he wrote — before they went to then-board chairman Bob Hanf for approval.
Discussions continued in December
As the expense reports were being prepared in December, it was noted by the finance director that "back-up support for [Kitch's] Visa is delinquent" and "it will be more important to provide [hospitality and expense] information on a timely basis, as finance will have to understand the nature of these expenses in order to properly report them."
Kitch's assistant responded that there were "missing receipts and there are personal charges that need to be addressed by the cardholder. With the public reporting of the expenses being implemented, I think there is more sensitivity as to what is being charged and recorded."
The results of an independent investigation released last month noted a lack of board oversight for Kitch's expense claims and that expenses were often paid without sufficient documentation to prove they were business expenses.
The emails provide some insight into the discrepancies discovered by CBC News in Kitch's expense reporting, particularly for travel.
'Potential optics issue'
An email from Kitch to D'Arcy on Dec. 30, where she detailed her travel inventory from April to December 2016, included details on several expensive trips. But in the first public posting of those expenses, on Jan. 11, there was no mention of those trips.
One week prior, on Jan. 3, D'Arcy wrote to Kitch alerting her that her counterpart at the Nova Scotia Health Authority, Janet Knox, would be reporting expenses that "appear unreasonably low" and "which creates a potential optics issue which we should seek to nullify on posting."
D'Arcy also recommended doing some work on "making the Air Canada flight pass $ a little less lumpy."
Kitch replied that her "assumption on flight pass was that we would not report the entire amount but pull out and attach to travel."
Staff express concerns
When CBC News was leaked a draft of Kitch's expenses, which was substantially higher than what was posted online and included the amount charged for flight passes, D'Arcy said he'd never seen it before.
That wasn't true.
The documents show D'Arcy was copied on emails that included the draft document. They also show that as the final document was being prepared for posting, at least one staff member expressed concerns about missing information.
"I see this version is significantly lower than the previous version," IWK chief of communications Gina Connell wrote to D'Arcy on Jan. 11, just hours before the expenses were posted.
"Also, the New York and New Orleans trips are both missing. I understand from the [provincial] directive that all travel must be disclosed. As well, many of the numbers have changed from the previous version."
Connell would later write to a colleague that "[D'Arcy] just called me and provided an explanation to my questions" and that he "has asked us to post as is."
'I trusted the information'
The IWK did not respond by deadline for comment when contacted Friday about the documents.
In an emailed response to questions, Hanf, the former board chair, said he never saw any other drafts of Kitch's expenses and was never alerted to any inaccuracies.
He said he became aware of a potential problem following the freedom of information requests by CBC News, which "prompted the IWK board to ask questions of the CEO, and the IWK board put confidence in the assurances we were provided."
Hanf said the board and he, as chair, trusted Kitch to ensure all policies and processes were followed.
"I trusted the information being provided to me had been properly reviewed internally and therefore that it was accurate," Hanf wrote.
"In hindsight I would say that more information in the reports would have provided better controls and that is what is being put in place going forward."
The independent investigation from Grant Thornton showed that, among other things, Kitch was travelling on the hospital's dime to visit family in Ontario.
D'Arcy blocked email disclosure
CBC News filed a request for information in January, received some documents from the hospital, and — believing the documents were incomplete — subsequently filed a protest with Nova Scotia's Information and Privacy Commissioner.
A letter that came with the latest documents revealed that in most cases, it was D'Arcy who decided that emails requested by CBC News should not be included in the initial disclosure package.
According to the letter from the IWK's privacy co-ordinator, Victoria Apold, D'Arcy reviewed the records to determine what information was related to the CBC's request.
"The CFO believed that drafts were considered not responsive to the request. In the normal course of processing [freedom of information requests], the privacy officer would be consulted prior to removing any potentially responsive documents and would make the final determination."
That didn't happen, and Apold's letter says the IWK's privacy office has since been educated in proper protocol by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Nova Scotia.