EHealth Ontario is embroiled in yet another controversy after two senior executives of a company bidding for a new multimillion-dollar contract were shown to have ties to the scandal that tainted the agency's reputation in 2009.
Telus Health Solutions is one of two companies that "prequalified" to bid on a request for proposals to develop an electronic drug-information system for Ontario. But Michael Guerriere and Dave Wattling's presence in Telus's senior ranks has caused some to question whether eHealth's troubled culture has been sufficiently reformed.
The new system would create a profile for every patient, allowing doctors and pharmacists to track prescriptions and reduce the risk of adverse drug interactions.
Mr. Guerriere and Mr. Wattling are experienced consultants who previously held key positions at Courtyard Group, a firm once awarded about $2-million in sole-sourced eHealth contracts. Telus later bought Courtyard and hired about 30 of its employees, including Mr. Guerriere and Mr. Wattling as vice-presidents.
In 2009, Ontario Auditor-General Jim McCarter criticized eHealth for millions of dollars in untendered contracts and expense account abuses that ensnared the agency in a damaging scandal and led the Liberals' Health Minister, eHealth executives and a senior government bureaucrat to resign.
But Jim Johannsson, a Telus spokesman, said Mr. Guerriere, Mr. Wattling and other former Courtyard staffers will not be involved in either bidding or working on the medication-management system, and that Telus Health Solutions has "lots of bench strength" among its 1,300 employees to pursue the contract.
"We don't want it be a concern," he said.
Telus was chosen as one of two "prequalified" bidders for its experience, resources and financial strength, according to eHealth.
Spokeswoman Muriel Deschenes said neither executive has been involved in any meetings or submissions. But she declined to say whether the agency would object to their participation.
"Telus speaks for Telus, and it's going to decide how its talent is deployed," she said.
Both eHealth and the Liberals have suffered setbacks in rebuilding the agency's name, most recently when bonus pay for hundreds of its employees, promised during a two-year wage freeze on many public sector workers, was scrapped in the face of public outrage.
Three vendors showed interest in pre-qualifying for the drug-information contract, the exact value of which has not been disclosed. One failed to make the grade.
A spokesman for Infrastructure Ontario said the multistage procurement process is standard practice since 2005.
Opposition politicians went on the attack Thursday, with accountability critic Lisa MacLeod contending the revelation "breeds skepticism" and erodes public confidence.
"It just doesn't look right. It doesn't pass the sniff test," she said. "The whole point of trying to re-brand eHealth Ontario as an agency that's going to work is sort of lost when the same characters continue to emerge."
Health Minister Deb Matthews countered that bids on agency contracts are evaluated independently and with integrity.
"Let's be clear. We have a very open, transparent process when it comes to procurement," she told reporters. "I think we need the best people doing the job. ... The vendors that qualify are both excellent companies and I think we have to let them choose who they hire."
With reports from Karen Howlett and The Canadian Press