02/13/2015 08:46 EST | Updated 04/15/2015 05:59 EDT

New mobile policy after $825K bill for 18 months for Alberta Health Services

EDMONTON - Alberta Health Services has a new policy for mobile and cellphone service.

AHS came up with it partly in response to a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request that showed mobile device billing between June 2013 and November 2014 totalled $850,000, including roaming fees and data usage above and beyond standard packages.

Vickie Kaminski, president and CEO of AHS, says that number is too high and the agency is now ensuring that staff and physicians with mobile devices are accountable and using their devices appropriately.

Kaminski says in some cases there are valid explanations for extreme roaming charges and going over data limits, such as a pediatric cardiologist transplant physician's $20,000 bill for providing several consultations while travelling.

She says in other instances, employees took their work phones on vacation, and the charges are a blend of personal and work-related usage, which they have now stopped.

"To enable the phone for travel outside of the country, executive level approval will be required based on the fact the employee will be required to work and have access to documents, including those that are patient-related, while travelling outside the country," Kaminski said in a new release.

The Opposition Wildrose put in the freedom of information request.

Leader Heather Forsythe says AHS officials should have been watching costs as a normal practice.

"We caught them on numerous things, they seem to think it's a given to spend taxpayers money on whatever they want, however they want, do whatever they want, until they're checked and then all of sudden they apologize and say, 'oh we'll fix that.'"

Kaminski said there were insufficient controls related to usage of mobile devices, in particular on use outside of Canada.

"AHS is contacting those whose bills are significant to review the circumstances of the overages. Should it be determined that there was inappropriate use that resulted in the high costs, then AHS will take the most appropriate action it can, including having employees pay back the money," she said.

She says a new deal with a cellphone provider will be done later this year that will contain costs when phones are out of the country.

(CHED, The Canadian Press)