Nova Scotia·CBC Investigates

Aberdeen Hospital spent nearly $500K for patient-sitting without tender

Pictou County's Aberdeen Hospital paid a private security firm nearly half a million dollars to watch confused or aggressive patients without tendering or signing a contract, a CBC Nova Scotia investigation has found.

A CBC Nova Scotia investigation found Aberdeen spent the most of any Nova Scotia hospitals

Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow didn't have a contract with the security company it hired to watch patients with mental illness, dementia and other conditions. (CBC)

Pictou County's Aberdeen Hospital paid a private security firm nearly half a million dollars to watch confused or aggressive patients without tendering or signing a contract, a CBC Nova Scotia investigation has found.

RMG Risk Management Group of Dartmouth was paid $461,129 in the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to new documents obtained through freedom of information laws.

In some cases, guards were being paid when there were no patients to monitor. Instead, those guards often sat in the cafeteria, CBC News has learned.

'That service carried on too long'

The new provincial health authority ended the informal security agreement last summer, Nova Scotia Health Authority spokesman Everton McLean said Wednesday. 

"There was a drastic need at that moment when the decision was made [to hire RMG]," McLean said. "That service carried on too long and we acknowledged that in the cancellation."

The people in charge when RMG was hired have since moved on, he said.

"It would be speculation for us to look back and say these people made the right or wrong decision," McLean said. "The best we can do is look at what the situation is now and choose the right path at this time."

Last November, the health authority awarded a tendered provincewide contract to Paladin Security.

Everton McLean, spokesman for Nova Scotia Health Authority, says RMG guards no longer work at Aberdeen Hospital. (CBC)

Most guards in surgical unit

Three RMG sitters were booked for day and night shifts each day, even if there was no patient to watch, according to an October 2015 email written by Kim Chisholm, who became director of health services the previous April.

Between Aug. 1 and 26, RMG guards were paid for 30 shifts, despite not providing a service, documents show. Those shifts alone cost the hospital about $7,000.         

That practice stopped Aug. 28, which significantly reduced patient support costs, Chisholm said in an email, a copy of which was obtained by CBC through a freedom of information request.

The biggest over-expenditure was in the medical-surgical inpatient unit where the initial budget was $60,000, but costs ballooned to more than $300,000. McLean said there were always three RMG guards on duty in the unit.

A security guard sits in the hallway of Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow. (Contributed)

Commissionaires already hired

The money paid to RMG is on top of the $114,187 contract with Commissionaires Nova Scotia for security, an agreement the company's CEO said included a provision to provide patient-sitting services.   

"There was a period of time due to employee shortages that Commissionaires Nova Scotia was not able to adequately cover the service," CEO Bruce Belliveau said.

"We recommenced providing that service last spring."

Commissionaires Nova Scotia refused to let the province release its invoices and contract when CBC requested them through freedom of information legislation.     

RMG 'a bit old school' for contracts

Dan Barry, president of RMG, downplayed the lack of a contract when contacted by CBC News.

Dan Barry, president of RMG Risk Management Group, says his company was first hired to watch a single violent patient. (Dan Berry/LinkedIn)

"I'm a bit old school," Barry said. "We have a fair number of clients that have been around for the 20 years … and there's not a contract."

RMG was originally hired five or six years ago to watch a violent patient, Barry said. 

As the need for patient-sitting services grew, he says RMG got more work, partly because of his company's reputation and the skills of his guards. 

"The public typically wants to see there are other folks who are bidding on these projects to make sure the costs are fair and appropriate, but I think most people who are searching for a company do their due diligence," Barry said.     

$3M spent provincewide

Last fall, a CBC Nova Scotia analysis found the Aberdeen spent a total of $936,000 on security guards to watch patients between October 2014 and September 2015 — nearly one third of the $3 million spent in hospitals across the province. 

After that story, CBC filed a freedom of information request for contracts and invoices of all groups providing security and patient-sitting. 

That's when the Nova Scotia Health Authority, which took over from the Pictou County Health Authority, revealed it did not have a signed contract with RMG.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bob Murphy

Reporter

Bob Murphy is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a CBC News reporter in the Maritime provinces for more than two decades. He has investigated everything from workplace deaths to unsolved crimes and government scandals.

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