Saskatchewan

Sask. NDP criticizes eHealth CEO's past, prompted by anonymous tip

Saskatchewan's NDP raised concerns about the record of eHealth CEO Jim Hornell after receiving an anonymous tip.

Jim Hornell defended himself against the criticism on Monday

Saskatchewan's NDP says it wants to make sure the Minister of Health is aware that the province's eHealth CEO was dismissed from his former position, alongside his entire board, after a comprehensive investigation ordered by Ontario’s Minister of Health. (saskatchewan.ca)

An anonymous tip prompted the Saskatchewan NDP to look closer at the record of the province's recently recruited eHealth CEO Jim Hornell. 

NDP Health Critic Vicki Mowat raised concerns Monday about Hornell's time as CEO of Brantford Community Health System (BCHS), which is based in Ontario. 

Mowat said there is "overwhelming evidence" of troubles — such as declining performance measures, finances and staff morale — related to Hornell's leadership.

The opposition noted the CEO was dismissed from his former position, alongside his entire board, after an investigation ordered by Ontario's Minister of Health. 

"We have serious concerns about whether we're going to see the same thing happen here," Mowat said.

Mowat said it's troubling that Hornell is now at the helm of an organization that has been "riddled with problems," such as questions around its use of vendor-sponsored travel.

"What we have been hearing from a number of whistleblowers is that there are still a number of issues at eHealth that need to be addressed, and that is one of the reasons why we bring it forward," she said.

Mowat said Saskatchewan's Minister of Health should be able to provide assurances that what happened in Ontario won't happen here and that the internal issues at eHealth will be addressed. 

Mowat noted some of the controversial incidents happened before Hornell took on the position in October 2018. 

"We don't know whether they've continued or not."

She said the organization needs the "right person" in charge to help stabilize it.

Health Minister Jim Reiter said he was aware of Hornell's history prior to his hiring and that he advised the board to do its due diligence. 

Furthermore, he accused the NDP of running a "drive-by smear campaign" on a civil servant. 

CEO defends himself

Hornell defended his eight years with BCHS in Ontario and claimed problems stemmed from under-funding.

The Sask. NDP said Hornell's leadership team "squandered" $18 million in cash reserves and consistently failed to balance its books. 

"We were just trying to keep the place afloat," Hornell said

He added that changes were made to the Ontario health organization on the advice of a consulting firm. Hornell said people were not happy with this, but he doesn't regret it.

Documents obtained by the NDP included a letter written by BCHS Medical Staff Association that cited concerns regarding morale and decried "costly decisions," like "spending money on consultation fees for a 20-year plan before discussion with the ministry." 

The association said widespread issues were, "not merely due to poor decision-making; but due to the lack of effective leadership." 

Furthermore, an investigative report into the organization said the "leadership style at BCHS as resulted in increasingly frustrated and disenfranchised staff and physicians." 

Hornell said his, "biggest regret would be not fighting the report more when it when it came out."

CEO cites changes at eHealth

Speaking to the concerns with eHealth in Saskatchewan, Hornell said employees have signed code of conduct forms and that changes have been made. 

"There is no vendor-sponsored travel going on that is any way inappropriate. Those practices are old news," he said. "I'm prepared to stand in front of anybody and say our practices are beyond reproach."

Hornell was asked about employee morale and he said that's "a big problem in all healthcare organizations right across the country."

He said social clubs and events, as well as transparency are boosting morale. Furthermore, he believes the employees are confident in him. 

He said eHealth employees are still "reeling" because of what's happened with the organization during the last few years.

"They feel as if they got a bit of a bum rap, that the whole organization was painted badly for the work of a small number of individuals," Hornell said.

About the Author

Kendall Latimer

Journalist

Kendall Latimer has shared compelling stories, photos, audio and video with CBC Saskatchewan since 2016. She loves a good yarn and is always open to chat: kendall.latimer@cbc.ca.

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