Sask to create stronger conflict of interest rules
November 21, 2018
REGINA – Saskatchewan’s Health Minister, Jim Reiter (pictured), said he is concerned about conflict-of-interest policies in the province’s former health regions, and wants a new, stronger policy in place soon. “I want as quickly as possible to have a consistent policy right across the province for healthcare officials.”
Recently, all health regions were amalgamated into the Saskatchewan Health Authority but the separate regions’ conflict of interest policies are all still in effect. Until a new policy is drafted, it will remain that way.
Concern about the issue was sparked by the dismissal and departures of former eHealth Saskatchewan executives, who accepted paid trips from vendors to conferences and sporting events in the United States.
A former Chief Information Officer with the Saskatchewan Crown corporation eHealth acknowledges that last year he received an all-expenses-paid trip to Charlotte, North Carolina where he and two other eHealth employees attended the PGA Championship.
Wilbour Craddock told CBC News the flights, accommodations, meals and tickets to the August 2017 tournament were all paid for by Lexmark, a large printing firm that does business with the government of Saskatchewan.
The employees Craddock travelled with ended up getting fired earlier this year for violating the conflict of interest policy at eHealth, which runs Saskatchewan’s electronic health record system.
In a September statement, eHealth said the unnamed employees were dismissed because they “attended sporting events in the United States paid for by private companies that provide goods and services to eHealth.” eHealth also said the employees didn’t break the law and no funds were misappropriated.
For his part, Craddock wasn’t fired. He had already left eHealth for a job at Sask Polytechnic, just weeks before the hammer came down on the other employees.
Craddock said the new job opportunity was attractive because, “I no longer felt comfortable in the political dynamic that was the consolidation of the health system and some of the fighting that was going on between organizations.”
According to Craddock’s Twitter account, he decided to follow Saskatchewan’s Graham DaLaet around the Quail Hollow course in Charlotte. The PGA championship is one of four major tournaments on the PGA Tour.
“You also were obligated to participate in product overviews, have conversations with product specialists,” he said. “I met with the healthcare lead out of Seattle who looks after Lexmark’s business. I met with the Canadian area vice president and had meaningful conversations around what Lexmark could do and what Lexmark wasn’t doing to support our needs in Saskatchewan.”
Craddock said the original contract with Lexmark was signed by someone else before Craddock was at eHealth. He acknowledges he was pushing eHealth to deepen its business relationship with Lexmark.
“We had a provincial agreement in place and we were looking at ways to optimize, absolutely,” he said. “We were looking to take advantage of a pre-existing relationship.”
eHealth’s conflict of interest policy at the time explicitly forbade just this sort of trip for employees. The policy provided examples of gifts that should be declined:
- Gifts or entertainment that could influence or appear to influence, business decisions.
- Flights and/or registration to events.
- All-expense-paid trips.
That policy is likely what got Craddock’s eHealth colleagues fired. However it appears to have had little influence on some of Craddock’s travel decisions during his four-year tenure at eHealth.
Craddock estimated he took about two vendor-sponsored trips per year to locations like Las Vegas, Orlando and Austin.
“It’s not always looked at as a free trip. In some cases, these are taking us away from our families, taking us away from our jobs, to continue to promote the work that we’re doing,” he said.
According to eHealth policy, employees taking out-of-province trips were required to get a “prior approval” form filled out in advance of the trip. Craddock acknowledges that he failed to get CEO approval for the PGA Championship trip to North Carolina.
“I know for a fact that the Lexmark trip I went on, a prior approval wasn’t completed, so I violated policy on that particular instance,” he told CBC’s iTeam in an interview.