ALBERTA

Stephen Lockwood: Alberta Health Boss Sorry For Expense Scandal

09/13/2012 05:48 EDT | Updated 11/13/2012 05:12 EST
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CALGARY - The chairman of Alberta Health Services says he's sorry for any money that may have been spent on things not related to delivering health care.

Stephen Lockwood made the public apology Thursday over questionable executive expenses that have come to light recently.

"I am here today to personally apologize to all of the residents of this great province for monies that may have been spent by any predecessor organization of AHS on expenses not related to health care in Alberta," said the newly appointed Lockwood.

"I believe this is my time to stand up and be accountable."

The agency that administers health care in the province was formed when health authorities were merged as a cost-cutting measure. It has been dogged by controversy since two senior health executives quit this summer over expense claims totalling $346,000.

Allaudin Merali resigned as chief financial officer over his claims for expensive restaurant meals, maintenance for his Mercedes and international trips when he worked for Capital Health, the now-defunct Edmonton regional authority, from 2005 to 2008.

Sheila Weatherill, who was Merali's boss at the time and approved the claims, stepped down from the board of Alberta Health Services within days.

"Although we and our organization are in no way responsible for the actions of our predecessors, we are responsible today for ensuring the public trust, and I am genuinely sorry that we are at the point where we must rebuild that trust," said Lockwood after a board meeting in Grande Prairie, Alta.

"I apologize without hesitation, because I recognize that the public expects us to take that step and to move forward."

Going forward, Lockwood said executive expenses are to be posted online monthly using travel and expense protocols announced by Premier Alison Redford last week.

Alberta's health minister has already ordered an audit into all of Merali's expenses from his time at Capital Health.

Lockwood said another internal audit has been requested by CEO Dr. Chris Eagle and other executives currently serving at Alberta Health Services and who were employed in the former Calgary Health Region during the same time period.

"The audit will answer the question: were their expenses within policy?" Lockwood said.

"Our executive leaders have told us they want to live up to the AHS value of transparency, and to assure patients and staff of AHS that our leadership's integrity — and in turn the integrity of AHS — is not in question."

Lockwood said he doesn't favour wasting any more health-care dollars by hiring auditors to expand or extend reviews into other regions.

He said the AHS has already spent over $200,000 for the current audit and for numerous freedom of information requests. Lockwood said that amount is equivalent to 14 hip surgeries.

"The final cost will exceed that amount and those dollars will be lost to health care forever."

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