Authorities are investigating how travel claims were handled by members of a northern Saskatchewan health region's board.

According to an auditor's report, board members for the Athabasca Health Authority were submitting claims for reimbursement of travel expenses without supporting documents, such as receipts.

The region, which oversees health services across much of Saskatchewan's north, has nine board members.

They meet monthly and many travel by air to get to the meetings, which rotate among the communities served.

The audit, by the firm KPMG, discovered that beginning in 2010 board members were receiving cash advances for travel costs, including airfare and hotels, but no follow-up receipts were required after a trip.

The amount of the cash advance, for airfare, was based upon a phone call placed to an airline, according to the audit.

The practice, before 2010, was for board members to  pay for their travel and submit receipts for reimbursement.

The report said it appears some board members received advances for the full price of flights, but enjoyed special discounts from the airline.

Officials troubled by findings

"It was troubling to us that there were not the necessary financial controls in place," Perry Martin, an official for the Saskatchewan ministry of health, told CBC News. "Board members were receiving public money to travel to board meetings."

Martin said the province is now training board members on travel expense procedures. Officials are also insisting the region put in place tighter financial controls.

Board Costs 2010 - Athabasca Health Authority
   
Honorarium $58,227
Per Diem $48,942
Other $ 9,913
Retainer $ 4,565
Travel $74,621
(Source: 2011 Annual Report)

 

Martin added the province has asked the region to investigate the issue raised by the auditor to see if any money is unaccounted for.

"So we would expect to hear back from them soon as to what that dollar figure might be," he said.

CBC News contacted the chairwoman of the board, Caroline Isadore, who said their travel receipts had been taken by a disgruntled employee, who has been fired, and the documents can not be located.

According to the Athabasca Health Authority's most recent annual report, published on its website, board expenses in 2010 amounted to $196,268.  Of that, $74,621 was spent on board travel.

The region's overall expenses in 2010 were $15,172,608.

The authority oversees services for about 4,500 people spread out over a large area.

The communities served include Black Lake, Stony Rapids and Fond du Lac.

(With files from CBC's Geoff Leo)