Health Minister Deb Matthews urged to scrap $46.2M diabetes registry
London Community News
By Rob Ferguson and Robert Benzie
In a stunning turn, eHealth Ontario wants to scrap its showcase $46.2-million diabetes registry because repeated delays have rendered the system obsolete, the Star has learned.
Sources say eHealth’s 10-member board of directors made the decision on Sept. 5, urging Health Minister Deb Matthews to cancel a six-year contract with registry developer CGI Group Inc. at no cost to taxpayers, since the firm had a cash-on-delivery contract that has not been fulfilled.
The issue is a political bombshell because of eHealth’s controversial past as a haven for consultants who earned up to $3,000 a day, while rushing development of electronic health records for Ontarians by 2015.
“I am aware of eHealth Ontario’s discussions concerning the disappointing delays by the diabetes registry’s vendor,” Matthews said in a statement Friday.
“My top priority is that taxpayers continue to be protected and that patients get the best possible care for the best value.”
CGI did not return a phone call and email seeking comment.
Robert Mitchell, eHealth’s vice-president of corporate communications, said “a final decision rests with the eHealth board after consultation with the minister.”
“I can confirm for you that the board recommendation is (that) the diabetes registry project, in its current form, be terminated,” said Mitchell.
“No money has been paid to CGI. Taxpayers are protected.”
The latest iteration of the registry, which the Liberals tout as a success-in-progress whenever an eHealth problem erupts, was supposed to be up and running on June 30, 2011, after previous delays criticized by provincial Auditor General Jim McCarter.
With diabetes affecting more than 1 million Ontarians and costing the health system billions, it seemed prudent to have a system to help patients and doctors control the chronic disease.
But CGI, which has spent between $10 million and $15 million developing the registry, has not met eHealth’s deadlines.
In July, while questioning Matthews at a legislative committee, Progressive Conservative MPP Michael Harris (Kitchener—Conestoga) dubbed the registry a “colossal failure.”
Officials at eHealth countered the registry was in “user-acceptance testing.”
eHealth CEO Greg Reed acknowledged two years ago the diabetes registry was evolving because “technology has marched on.”
A boutique diabetes system is unnecessary because cheaper eHealth software — known as electronic medical record (EMR) 4.1 and developed by 13 different vendors, none of which is CGI — is already used by 9,000 Ontario physicians.
It cross-references ailments, better helping diabetics who suffer from other conditions more than a single-disease registry.
But the cancellation could be embarrassing for the Liberals because it raises the spectre of other eHealth travails.
In 2009, a spending scandal made front-page news for weeks after the agency awarded millions of dollars in sole-sourced contracts, gave executive perks like lucrative bonuses, and used high-priced consultants.
Last year, eHealth tried to give all 617 employees 1.9 per cent merit raises and bonuses averaging 7.8 per cent despite a government edict to freeze wages. After the Star revealed them, the payouts were cancelled and some irate employees then launched a class-action lawsuit against the agency.
Just last month, it was disclosed that Reed received an $81,250 bonus on top of his $329,000 salary. He repaid the bonus.
Against that tumultuous backdrop, the diabetes registry was always touted as an example of the need for of electronic health records.
In March 2010, eHealth said it was “a top clinical priority” and “one of the key deliverables” of Ontario’s $741 million strategy to deal with the fast-growing chronic illness.
It would “track how well diabetes patients in Ontario are cared for; receive data from sources such as OHIP claims and laboratory test results; track dates of important tests and lab results to help clinicians and patients better manage their care; and produce reminders, alerts and reports to improve patient care.”
But problems have plagued the project almost since CGI formally announced its participation on Aug. 9, 2010.
Because eHealth had been burned on past contracts, the CGI deal was modelled on the Liberals’ hugely successful “alternative financing and procurement” model, which transfers risk to the private sector.
The agency worked with Infrastructure Ontario — then headed by David Livingston, who also sat on eHealth’s board before leaving both posts to become Premier Dalton McGuinty’s chief of staff — to ensure there was little financial exposure to taxpayers.
- Torstar News Service