REGINA – The Saskatchewan government’s freeze on non-essential travel does not include costly trips to the United States for staff to be trained in Lean methods.
Seven of the so-called “Lean tours” were planned between Jan. 1 and Mar. 31, at a cost of $8,900 per person, per trip. With 20 people on each tour, the total cost is nearly $1.25 million.
Included in the travel costs are flights and hotels, plus “tuition” paid to Lean consultant John Black and Associates (JBA) for access to facilities such as Virginia Mason Medical Centre in Seattle and an airbag manufacturer in Salt Lake City – both of which have used Lean methods.
Opposition NDP leader Cam Broten raised the issue in Tuesday’s question period, asking why the travel freeze prevented the government from attending a health care summit in northern Saskatchewan on Feb. 17.
“Going on these types of tours … that’s not the best use of time, that’s not the best use of money,” Broten said. “Especially when this government is is saying ‘No’ to important things.”
Health Minister Dustin Duncan responded Tuesday, saying cancellation of the tours could have cost almost $1 million: the bulk of tour costs paid up front to JBA plus any penalties for breach of contract.
Duncan also said the tours are important for Lean leader certification because the facilities stress efficiency and reduction of errors. The tours don’t impact other initiatives, he added.
“Not to have been present at one meeting is not representative of how we’ve tried to interact with residents and providers in northern Saskatchewan.”
Premier Brad Wall issued a fiscal restraint memo in December, which ordered a freeze on non-essential government spending, hiring and travel. Government staff have been directed to consider travel alternatives such as teleconferencing, a spokesperson said in January.
In light of the travel freeze, Duncan said the Lean tours would have been reconsidered if the government had not been contractually obligated to them.
Lean is being used by the Saskatchewan government in an effort to streamline health care services. The province is the first to apply Lean across an entire health system.
The contract with the U.S.-based JBA is being terminated at the end of March, with a final cost of roughly $35 million.