Three individuals, including a former top bureaucrat in British Columbia (B.C.), are facing charges of corruption in connection with the province’s e-health project. Ron Danderfer, a former assistant deputy health minister, who was removed from his position three years ago, has been charged with fraud, breach of trust, and influence peddling. Dr. Jonathan Burns, a consultant for the ministry, and James Taylor, the manager of network services for the Fraser Health Authority, have also been charged with fraud and breach of trust for their involvement in the project. The trio is accused of attempting to benefit personally from the lucrative project. Special prosecutor John Waddell is handling the charges due to the government’s involvement in the matter. The charges stem from an RCMP investigation and follow an auditor general’s report that was critical of the government’s handling of the project.
The B.C. government’s e-health project aimed to computerize patient health records to streamline the delivery of services and save money. The project includes eight e-health initiatives, such as giving doctors electronic access to patient records, providing online lab access, and using videoconferencing to connect patients with health professionals. The government estimates the cost of its e-health projects at about $200 million, although the Opposition New Democrats claim it could be more than double that.
The charges against Danderfer, Burns, and Taylor arose after an RCMP search warrant alleged that Danderfer offered to use his influence to help Burns’ firm, WebMed Technology Inc., win a contract. The warrant information also alleges that Burns was allowed to double-bill for his medical services to two branches of the Health Ministry with Danderfer’s knowledge. It also alleges that Danderfer accepted personal and family benefits from Burns, including allowing Burns to hire members of Danderfer’s family. Taylor has a previous conviction for defrauding the White Rock Sea Festival, for which he served two years’ house arrest.
Opposition NDP health critic Adrian Dix believes that the e-health project’s problems go deeper than the corruption charges. He says that there is a culture of irresponsibility and non-accountability on the part of the government when it comes to e-health. The investigation and the auditor general’s report came as competing bidders for e-health contracts criticized the transparency of the tendering process. Jody Bevan, president of Jonoke Software Development, which lost its bid for an e-health contract, said he believes there were problems with the tendering procedure.
Health Minister Kevin Falcon said that he did not want to comment on the case now that charges have been laid, but last fall, he called the allegations “very damaging and concerning.” Falcon defended the e-health program on Thursday, saying that it got off to a poor start but that the auditor general confirmed that things now appear to be back on track. He also said that the B.C. government has followed Auditor General John Doyle’s recommendation to report back to him every six months.