Saskatchewan

'Illogical' to appoint former political staffer to highest ranks of SHA, health policy expert says

Two health policy consultants say they are wary that a longtime civil servant, political staffer and former Saskatchewan Party candidate without prior experience in health-care administration has been appointed to the highest ranks of the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

Raynelle Wilson was seconded to a new vice president role last week

Longtime political staffer and civil servant Raynelle Wilson was seconded to a newly-created vice president role in the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s executive leadership team. (Trevor Bothorel/Radio-Canada)

Two health policy consultants say they are wary that a longtime civil servant, political staffer and former Saskatchewan Party candidate without prior experience in health-care administration has been appointed to the highest ranks of the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

Raynelle Wilson was seconded to a newly-created "vice president of enterprise initiatives support" role in the SHA's executive leadership team last week.

According to a memo distributed to staff, it's a six-month position to "provide executive leadership aimed at strengthening collaboration between the SHA, Ministry of Health and other key partners in support of achieving and reporting on priority enterprise initiatives."

Before taking on this role, Wilson spent two months as a senior advisor to the deputy minister of health. She's also been politically appointed for several high-level government positions. She served as president and CEO of the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation, assistant deputy minister of Housing and Disability Services within the Ministry of Social Services, assistant deputy minister within the Ministry of Finance and chairperson of the Public Service Commission.

Merriman defends appointment

Health Minister Paul Merriman defended Wilson's appointment, saying her years as a public servant and senior leader qualifies her for the job.

He said the ministry needed someone to help with the "logistical side" of the SHA.

"We need somebody that has some good organizational skills that could look at it with a fresh set of eyes to be able to see what it is that we can improve on," Merriman said in an interview with CBC News on Monday.

Health Minister Paul Merriman defended appointing a former Saskatchewan Party staffer to a senior leadership role within the province's health authority. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

Dennis Kendel, a health policy consultant and retired physician in Saskatoon who has been critical of the government's pandemic response, said he thinks the minister is "inappropriately intruding into the management level of the SHA."

Merriman "has every right to interact" with the SHA board, since the government appoints its members, but he "should stay out of the kitchen" of the organization's operations, Kendel said.

"It just really is illogical and I think somewhat offensive to parachute in a person to the leadership team of the SHA at this point. It doesn't make sense." 

Kendel was there at the inception of the SHA.

In 2016, he was one of three members appointed to an advisory panel tasked with reviewing the structure of the former 12 Regional Health Authorities (RHA).

After long hours of consultations with the public, Kendel and the other members, Brenda Abrametz and Tyler Bragg —who currently serve as SHA board members — recommended the consolidation of the RHAs into the single SHA. 

The health minister at the time Jim Reiter announced in January 2017 that this work would begin.

Now with Wilson's appointment, Kendel said he's concerned about the executive leadership team. 

Enterprise initiatives

"It's worrisome because If I were a member of the executive leadership team, I would wonder why there is a person being sent, who on the face of it has no particular expertise in healthcare, to deal with something called enterprise initiatives?"

Kendel also noted that instead of temporarily appointing someone to senior ranks, "ordinarily, if you feel there's some expertise lacking … if you were bringing somebody on for six months, you would bring them on in a consulting contract role."

Steven Lewis, an adjunct professor of health policy at British Columbia's Simon Fraser University, who was previously a health policy and research consultant based in Saskatoon, is also skeptical of Wilson's role.

He said she's "unlikely to hit the ground running because she doesn't have any background in healthcare."

"In general, people who have senior positions, vice president level positions in big health organizations, have health experience. On occasion, even CEOs have been hired from other sectors and imported into health in other provinces, but it hasn't worked out well."

Job description request declined

CBC News asked the SHA to provide a job description and the goals of Wilson's position beyond the staff memo. CBC also asked for interviews with Wilson and Arlene Wiks, the SHA board chair.

SHA spokesperson Doug Dahl said no one was available for an interview and referred CBC back to the memo. 

Dahl did note that the term "enterprise" in Wilson's job title "is a reference to system-wide priority projects" and that her focus "has nothing to do with work with the private sector or third parties other than government, or other public sector partners in the health system."

The Opposition NDP had asked the provincial auditor to launch a special investigation into Wilson's appointment. But a statement from the auditor's office said no such investigation will be conducted "because our planned audit procedures within our annual integrated audit of the Saskatchewan Health Authority will address the concern raised."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yasmine Ghania is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan, currently based in Saskatoon.

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