04/15/2013 02:58 EDT | Updated 06/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Michele Lahey Mayo Clinic Treatment: Alberta Government Says No Proof Exec's Trip Was Personal

EDMONTON - The Alberta government says there's no clear proof that a former health executive billed taxpayers for medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

But Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk said if it's true, it will be "dealt with."

Michele Lahey claimed and was reimbursed for $7,225 in expenses for a 2007 trip to the clinic while executive vice-president and chief operating officer for the former Capital Health Authority.

The Opposition Wildrose received copies of the expense claims under a Freedom of Information request and released them publicly Monday.

The documents include Lahey's $6,230 bill from the Mayo, but it does not specify whether the cost was for medical treatment. Other trip expenses included meals and hotel accommodations.

Lukaszuk said during question period that the Wildrose may be jumping to the wrong conclusion. It's not unusual for health executives to travel to other hospitals and Lahey's expenses are "probably legitimate."

"It is very possible this individual went to this clinic for a meeting and actually was at a seminar for two or three days," he said.

The Wildrose said it appears the trip was personal because there's no mention in the documents of a work-related conference. Lahey also did not claim any airfare.

Health Minister Fred Horne said he hasn't seen the documents but added that if the Wildrose is standing behind the allegation, it should take the matter to the auditor general.

AHS spokesman Kerry Williamson said the department won't be investigating. He confirmed the expenses were approved by Capital Health, which merged with other regional health boards in 2009. He also said the documents are a matter of public record and were posted last month on the AHS website.

"Alberta Health Services isn't going to speculate or comment on the past," Williamson wrote in a email.

"Alberta Health Services has a new, stringent policy for permissible and appropriate expenses. The new policy was created to tighten limits and guidelines on appropriate expenses and is among the most comprehensive in the country."

Spending by health bureaucrats has been under the microscope since last year, when it was revealed that former AHS financial officer Allaudin Merali charged taxpayers almost $370,000 for lavish restaurant meals, repairs to his Mercedes Benz, and a butler.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said there could be many more cases of misspending. Her party is still waiting for the province to release the expenses of 42 other health executives.

But Smith said the Lahey case stinks of more than just improper spending. It may also be about jumping to the front of the line.

"If the treatment wasn't available here in the public system and they went down and got private health care in the U.S., how is that fair to other patients who are waiting for health care in the province?"

An inquiry wrapped up earlier this month into queue-jumping in the province's health care system. It heard about a scheme that saw patients at a private health clinic in Calgary moved to the top of a list for colon cancer tests at a public screening centre.

The inquiry report is due August 31.

Smith thinks the government should reopen the inquiry to look into Lahey's trip. She also wants the province to fight to get the trip money back.

Lahey no longer lives in Canada. A year after her visit to the Mayo clinic, she was named chief executive officer of the Bupa Cromwell Hospital, a private hospital in London.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had Lakaszuk.

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