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Ontario health controversy touches Vancouver city manager

June 8th, 2009 · 25 Comments

For those of you without Penny Ballem on your Google alert, this story just popped up on the Globe’s website.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Mary

    Dr. Ballem was paid a typcial daily rate for top health consutants in Canada. The key question Ontario should have asked was, ‘would she create the same kind of electronic health record system there as existed in BC initially (and possibly still)?’

    That is, one where an electronic health record for a patient from the Fraser Health Region, e.g. Burnaby General could not be read should the person show up for admission at a Vancouver Coastal facility.

    The trouble is there is little evaluation and accountability in the rarified air of Canadian health executives. It isn’t just or possibly even about Dr. Ballem. She may be the exception, but the question should be asked and answered satisfactorily.

  • shepsil

    While the article does not provide any details about this so called contract. Was it per diem that included all expenses or were expenses extra? Did she pay for travel and living expenses from her per diem? How many times did she travel back and forth from Vancouver to Toronto?

    Without more details, the Globe story about Dr. Ballem becomes superficial gossip that does more harm than good.

  • jimmy olson

    “Without more details, the Globe story about Dr. Ballem becomes superficial gossip that does more harm than good.”

    How is it gossip if its facts that are being reported? In my reading of the story i did not see allegations…

  • Larry McLaren

    In completely unrelated news, I’m always fascinated by seeing what Google is up to and, in turn, what people who use Google are up to.

    Here’s one of Googles lab tools that allows you to search what’s being searched and where.

    This link shows where and how often the search term “bankruptcy” was used in a variety of provinces (sorry – no parlez francais) over the past 18 months.

    Why would I be wondering why people are looking up the term “bankruptcy”?
    Because I can!

  • rf

    There is a reason that Courtyard remains a private company. If they were a public company, the public would see exactly how lucritive their racket is.

  • Frothingham

    @rf – interesting about the Courtyard Group. I had never heard of them and here they are billing them selves as working to change the health system…”our reason for being is to transform healthcare.”. .. so who is hiring these folks?

  • fbula

    Larry — What a great tip. I love knowing those kinds of things. I will get right on trying that out.

  • rf

    They are the biggest player, arguably in North America, when it comes health records management. Hospitals are the toughest place on the planet to adopt geniune adminstrative change. Entrenched union workforces (ever seen what happens when you ask a CUPE, COPE, or HEU employee to do something differently when they’ve been doing it another way for 15 years) and doctors and nurses (even more stubborn and like to do things “their way”).
    If hospitals and health care in general could adopt a paperless environment the cost savings are potentially enormous.
    Courtyard is led by a handful of doctors (they actually have some pretty altrusic intentions. They could have gone public by now, taken 8 figure+ paydays and sailed into the sunset if they really wanted to) who are trying to implement those types of changes. No more charts, no more having to tell 10 different doctors and nurses your symptoms. Have you ever noticed that when you are referred to another doctor that they still fax or courier your charts? Some hospitals still use those sucking tubes to move records around.
    Take the Stock Exchanges as an example. 99% of the paper you see laying around on trading floors today is newspapers. The traders carry notebook style tablets that track everything. In the last 10 years the exchanges (not the “market”, I mean the actual corporate entities that manage trading) have made incredible profits streamlining the sharing of information and data. There’s just a handful of dinosaurs that still operate on paper.
    Imagine a hospital where the doctors and nurses carried a electronic tablet tied into a network that eliminated all of the paper administration and hard copy files that plagues our system today. All the medical info on you is tied to a barcode on your bedside or wristband. The long-term savings are in the billions.
    Courtyard is Microsoft. Athena is Oracle.

  • Frothingham

    … Courtyard on iPhones = Apple. Did you see how medical apps are now on appearing under iPhone 3.0. , with lots more to follow… Forget MS they are so yesterday.

  • Frothingham
  • David

    Yes: Imagine a hospital where the doctors and nurses carried a electronic tablet tied into a network that eliminated all of the paper administration and hard copy files that plagues our system today thankfully in part because of Penny’s 72 hours this dream will be realized. Imagine that the software is propriety-free and it updates itself and that it also solves the common cold.

  • Blaffergassted

    Must be nice
    – severance package from Victoria
    – consulting fees from Ontario
    – and a new High Paid job in Vancouver.

  • gmgw

    Yeah, Blaffergassted, and just think: If only you’d applied yourself in school, got a medical degree, built a career as a physician and specialist, went into administration, developed health care-related adminstrative expertise respected on a country-wide basis, and got hired as a deputy minister in a province with one of the biggest health-care budgets in the country, you too might be making big bucks as a consultant for major clients across the country, and ultimately have secured a High Paid job (sic) in Vancouver, in a position of great reponsibility, and you wouldn’t have had to spend your life shoveling shit for a living and enviously bitching about those overpaid higher-ups.

    Must really grate, huh?

  • rf

    I’m with gmgw for a change. And she probably pays 150k+ in taxes every year. Taxes that the less-fortunate/educated/driven/lucky benefit from.
    Don’t bite the hands that feed the tax dollars. All of the Bellam’s could make more and pay less in the US (for now) or most other parts of the world.
    These villified people making 7 figures also pay 6 and 7 figure taxes.

  • MB

    My understanding is that Ms. Ballem quit her Number One bureaucrat position with BC Ministry of Health on principle, something about oversized Gordohoppers stompin’ on the deputy’s principles.

    Well, she left with her principles pretty well intact, but the suddenness of her departure made the premier’s jaw drop so hard on the ledge lawn he could barely comment.

    I would give her the benefit of the doubt that she utilized the same principles in contracts with other health ministries, and certainly has the experience to justify the high remuneration.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    The key issue here, regardless of Vision efforts at deflection, is that Dr. Ballem received an untendered contract.

    If that’s not appropriate for Pat Kinsella, and, I would argue that it is NOT, then the good doctor must be held to the same standard–period.

    But, as per usual, when the left commits to something clearly and unmistakably offside, it’s okay…

  • MB

    Good point, AGT. On principle, all public contracts should be tendered.

    However, I have seen situations where there is only one or two qualified consultants or contractors in specialized fields. That’s when a pre-qualifying process should be practiced in order to weed out the potential that some eager incompetent could out-bid those with greater expertise, and screw up the work. It happens regularly.

    Did I miss somewhere that the contract referred to involved a pre-qualifying process?

  • MB

    Oh yeah, the process of pre-qualifying and tendering should be as free from political meddling as possible. But given our history, maybe that’s impossible no matter who’s in power.

  • Frothingham

    “Dr. Ballem received an untendered contract.”

    This may very well be. But how is this the problem of Vision? Or anyone in BC for that matter. Is it not an issue between the Ontario entity and Dr. Ballem?

    She only became an employee of the CoV after and resigned her Contract to come to the City.

    Perhaps i am missing something ..

  • spartikus

    Perhaps i am missing something ..

    I don’t think you are. Ballem may have been “paid a typical daily rate for top health consultants in Canada” and I may think that sort of money is way too much for anyone…but…

    …what was she supposed to do? Turn down the contract because it wasn’t put to tender? This is the fault of the system, not the player.

    Of course, new facts could come out in upcoming days that might change that assessment.

  • Not an Expert

    This type of business practice speaks to what goes very wrong in a merit based society without effective rules of engagement. People can loose their authenticity as they become too elitist and compromise their perspective on what the value of work and expertise is. Penny Ballem was grossly overpaid. What is disheartening is the fact she is taking money from the very people she is supposedly helping. If as a doctor, she had billed in this manner n terms of a medical practice, the medical plan would have questioned her. I think the elitism shown here is like the royals breeding amongst themselves. They all believe they are worth the money because that’s what they keep telling each other. The lack of judgement is akin to an increasingly shallow gene pool. I think the left can be as bad as the right in convincing itself that good deeds somehow warrant a healthy paycheck. Where has the value gone it just going the right thing cause its the right thing to do?

  • concerned

    I totally agree with Not an Expert….well said

  • Blaffergassted

    Sounds like she’s been working hard to eliminate the need for paper shredders in government offices.

    That’s got to be a good thing, eh?

  • shepsil

    “Not an Expert” – You may have hit a certain nail on the head. Penny Ballem, who appears to have proved her competence over the years, comes from a very “prominent” Montreal family. Her father was Bud Drury, a member of parliament for Westmount and member of Trudeau’s cabinet.

    Lets hope her working for Robertson will show her true colors as a forward thinking and compassionate individual.

  • Not an Expert

    Shepsil, given my own family’s background which is to say m parents literally pulled themselves out of third world standards of poverty and pursued careers in the medical profession, “do gooders” such as Dr. Ballem don’t fill me with confidence. Somewhere along the way, I feel she has lost her way. I think she is nothing more than the equivalent of a war profiteer. The doctors I knew and grew up around were ones willing to get their pilots license so they could fly to the northern communities and treat patients. They thought more about how they could serve the medical system & their patients best and not the other way around.