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Multiple reviews ordered amid misspending allegations at B.C. provincial health authority

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks during a press conference in the rotunda at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Wednesday May 6, 2020. British Columbia's health minister says the province has hired more staff and increased operating-room hours to catch up on cancelled surgeries but a significant surge in COVID-19 cases could impact recovery. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito.

British Columbia’s health minister has ordered the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) to eliminate its chief of staff position and launched several reviews amid allegations of misspending.

The PHSA is the province’s non-regional health authority charged with coordinating a network of specialized health-care services.

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The allegations, first reported by the CBC on Monday, include lavish catered breakfasts and lunches for executives, unnecessary renovations to its headquarters at 1333 Broadway and the acquisition of useless personal protective equipment (PPE) earlier in the pandemic.

In a statement Friday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said he had ordered a freeze on PHSA spending without the approval of the deputy minister of health.

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The PHSA has been directed to eliminate the position of chief of staff by next Friday, and barred from any hiring or firing decisions regarding its senior executive staff without the deputy health minister’s approval until the end of March.

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PHSA says it has eliminated the role of chief of staff, but the person who held it was in a dual role and will continue as vice-president of people services.

The ministry is also conducting a “review and refresh” of B.C. health authorities’ capital spending.

In response to the allegations around catered meals, Dix has ordered a review of all B.C. health authorities’ business meeting expenses.

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The review is to provide recommendations “for revised policies that will ensure business meeting expenses are reasonable for a taxpayer-funded organization.”

Dix said the ministry will also hire an independent third-party advisor to provide a report on the “problematic” PPE purchase, after allegations of unusable face masks purchased from China through distributor Luminaire.

That review will “clarify” PHSA CEO Benoit Morin’s role in “all aspects of the transaction.”

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It will also review concerns about decisions within the authority to dismiss members of the PHSA’s executive, including its chief internal auditor.

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The province says it is looking at health care expert John Bethel with Ernst & Young to head the review.

In a statement, the PHSA said it “acknowledges the Ministry of Health review of spending and accepts the recommendations brought forth.”

“We have been and continue to be fully supportive of the review and we now welcome the recommendations as an opportunity to ensure public confidence in PHSA and its leadership. ”

BC Liberal health critic Renee Merrifield said Dix’s response did not do enough to restore public confidence.

“B.C. taxpayers still don’t have answers if the allegations of wasteful spending are indeed true,” she said in a statement.

“There needs to be complete transparency and Minister Dix needs to be honest with British Columbians about what exactly happened at the PHSA — We’re talking about millions of dollars.”