B.C. health authority CEO dismissed without cause a year after hiring
Benoit Morin left the same day as the release of report on concerns about spending at PHSA
The CEO of a B.C. health agency has been dismissed on the same day as the release of a report prompted by concerns about spending by the Provincial Services Health Authority.
The board of directors of the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) has "decided to part ways" with Benoit Morin, said B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix on Tuesday.
Dix confirmed in an interview Morin was dismissed without cause and will receive a severance consistent with his contract, which amounts to about nine months.
The report, commissioned by the ministry, comes after CBC News brought forward concerns raised by multiple sources, who claimed, among other things, that PHSA purchased and eventually wrote off roughly $7 million worth of unusable face masks from a Montreal-based vendor.
In its review, the accounting firm Ernst & Young investigated rumours that circulated within the PHSA about a "potential personal relationship" between Morin and the founder of the mask vending company.
The report found "no evidence of any pre-existing relationship" between them "that would support the conflict of interest allegation raised."
The report observed a disconnect between the CEO, the board and PHSA staff regarding "the appropriate course of action" regarding the Montreal-based company.
Specifically, the review found PHSA staff wanted "to start legal action" after it was determined the masks did not meet B.C.'s PPE testing protocols, but that Morin and the board disagreed, preferring to negotiate. When that failed, the report says, other PHSA executives pursued legal action without informing the board or Morin.
Ernst & Young also reports that the Montreal-based vendor filed for bankruptcy in January and that "the likelihood of any significant recovery" is low.
The PHSA provides access to a provincial network of health-care services.
'Lack of loyalty'
The report also states that several staff departures, including that of PHSA's chief internal auditor and three other executives, were tied at least in part to "a perceived lack of loyalty to, and/or friction with" Morin.
Ernst & Young's findings indicate that Morin and the PHSA board objected to their financial team's decision to write off the $6.95-million mask purchase when it was determined the PPE failed to meet provincial testing protocols.
The report indicates that Morin took his concerns to the board, which felt the issue should be further examined by the PHSA external auditors. An engineer was also contracted to determine if the masks could be repurposed.
This pushback caused friction between PHSA leadership and the organization's finance team, who worried it affected their ability to "make accounting decisions based on their professional judgment."
The write-off, says Ernst & Young, was ultimately supported by the external auditors and the chair of the audit committee.
"The [board of directors] and the CEO continue to have concerns that a write-off of this magnitude should have been raised with them in advance of it being recorded," the review says.
Work environment, leadership
Investigator John Bethel also reports that other areas of concern were raised in the course of his interviews with more than 40 PHSA staff, including Morin and the board.
The investigation was commissioned after multiple sources with intimate knowledge of operations within the PHSA spoke with CBC about their concerns.
Along with the mask purchase, the whistleblowers alleged B.C.'s central health authority squandered hundreds of thousands renovating the PHSA headquarters, shortly after a more than $17 million dollar renovation was done.
The whistleblowers alleged the changes were made to give Morin a better view of downtown Vancouver and the North Shore mountains.
The PHSA said the money came out of its internal capital budget, and "refutes that the CEO's office was moved to improve the view. The new CEO office is smaller and incorporates a previously existing meeting room, enabling more privacy."
The whistleblowers also questioned catered meals provided to 18 PHSA executives and their assistants in the early days of the pandemic, with breakfasts that included avocado toast with lemon ricotta berry crêpes and lunches that featured steak and salmon nicoise salads and sparkling water.
They say this went on until about May, and that they were bothered to see the meals happening at a time when many front-line health-care workers were going without adequate meal breaks due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.
The PHSA confirmed the timeline of the meals, but told CBC its executives were working around the clock, holding meetings at all hours, and were trying to keep "their bubbles small."
Morin was hired in February 2020, with a salary of $352,000 a year. His accommodation and a car were also provided as part of his relocation package from Montreal, where he'd worked previously.
The PHSA, meanwhile, has announced Dr. David Byers, who previously served as the Ministry of Health's associate deputy minister, will serve as interim CEO.
- This story has been updated to clarify that the allegations of improper spending on office renovations and catered meals were made by whistleblowers who spoke to CBC. The responses to those allegations from PHSA have also been added.Jul 06, 2022 7:03 PM PT
With files from Eric Rankin