Alberta's health authority has parted ways with its chief financial officer, hours before a TV story about $346,208 in expenses was set to go to air.
Allaudin Merali, who served as CFO and executive vice-president for Alberta Health Services, had only been on the job since May, and will now leave with at least one year's severance pay.
He'd previously served as CFO for Edmonton's Capital Health Authority, which was later rolled into AHS. It is expenses during his time in Edmonton that are in question; they weren't reviewed when he was hired to his new role as AHS. Mr. Merali was also among the consultants criticized for their expense claims in Ontario's eHealth spending scandal.
Mr. Merali's departure was announced Wednesday by AHS acting chief executive officer Chris Mazurkewich.
"The expense records being released today put AHS and Mr. Merali in a difficult position," Mr. Mazurkewich said at a news conference. "...We've taken difficult but necessary steps to ensure public confidence."
The $346,208 in expenses, including travel costs, were accrued over 43 months between 2005 and 2008, during his time with Capital Health. The CBC requested the documents earlier this year; they were provided on July 27 and posted to AHS's website late Wednesday.
In addition to parting ways, AHS announced it will now post the expenses of all its executives as a matter of routine, beginning in the "coming weeks."
The costs included Mr. Merali's duties in representing the health board at several functions, "an integral and necessary part of his duties," Mr. Mazurkewich said earlier in a written statement. But AHS was "concerned, and Mr. Merali agrees, that they will detract from his ability to act as AHS' Chief Financial Officer, and that AHS will be put into a position where its commitment to uphold the highest standards of accountability and public confidence in Alberta Health Services could be left open to doubt," the statement said.
Mr. Merali was among the consultants whose expenses and fees helped fuel outcry about overspending and mismanagement at Ontario's eHealth agency. In 2009, Mr. Merali billed eHealth $2,750 per day for his time, also earning a $75 per diem. He billed seven days a week, with a half-day for Sundays, during one December trip. All told, he billed eHealth over $285,000 over several months, including $24,000 for flights between Edmonton and Toronto and, during a six-day stay at Toronto's Fairmont Royal York hotel, $14.95 for a daily "beverage."
Health Minister Fred Horne said he was "concerned" by the claims, but supports AHS's response. "I am satisfied with the action that has been taken today," he said in a written statement, later adding that he has "been assured by AHS that policies and processes that are in place today are far more stringent than what was in place under the former Capital Health Authority."
AHS has proven to be a lightening rod for controversy since the health board amalgamation was announced in 2008. The agency initially dealt with soaring costs, characterized as growing pains, and parted ways with its CEO in late 2010 after a high-profile, so-called cookie incident. Former CEO Stephen Duckett left a urgent meeting on emergency room care in November, 2010, and refused to speak to reporters, saying repeatedly he was eating his oatmeal-and-raisin cookie. It was seen as a moment of hubris, sparking a firestorm that the premier said made Mr. Duckett's job untenable. He was let go days later.
Mr. Mazurkewich declined to say what Mr. Merali's annual salary - and, as such, his severance - would be. Mr. Mazurkewich was asked whether former Capital Health CEO Sheila Weatherill, who now sits on the AHS board and signed off on some of Mr. Merali's expenses, would also be leaving AHS.
He declined to comment, referring the question to Mr. Horne, whose spokesman said there'd be no comment on Ms. Weatherill until Thursday, when Mr. Horne is scheduled to speak to reporters.