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Liberals threw away $647M on e-Health: Critics

Five years and $647 million were wasted by the Ontario government'sattempt to develop electronic health records before the project wasshut down and started all over again, the opposition parties chargedThursday.

Five years and $647 million were wasted by the Ontario government's
attempt to develop electronic health records before the project was
shut down and started all over again, the opposition parties charged
Thursday.

The government quietly shuttered the Smart Systems for
Health Agency last fall and replaced it with e-Health Ontario, another
body charged with the same task of creating a system that would allow
people's medical records to be shared electronically among health
professionals.

The Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats
say it was no accident the Liberals closed the old agency the same day
the government released its first report on outbreaks of a deadly
bacteria in Ontario hospitals.

"They finally recognized the
agency was a failure ... and quietly pulled the plug on the same day
that C. difficile results were announced, on a Friday ... and set up
the other agency hoping that nobody would notice," said Opposition
critic Elizabeth Witmer.

"For five years this government allowed the agency to move forward without any accountability whatsoever."

Witmer
said "it's unbelievable" that a government agency could spend hundreds
of millions of taxpayer dollars and have practically nothing of value
at the end - a sentiment echoed by NDP critic France Gelinas.

"Ontarians should be worried that $647 million was spent with very, very little to show for it," Gelinas said.

"This
is a complete failure. There is no way this government will ever be
able to account for the $647 million that they've scattered with no
result."

However, Health Minister David Caplan said the old
agency did manage to set up a secure computer network linking 7,000
sites of various public health agencies and family health teams across
the province.

"That is all in place, and having that secure
network where health information can be transmitted is really an
incredible fist step," said Caplan, who admitted Ontario was falling
behind other jurisdictions in creating electronic health records.

"I
decided to make the change from that agency to e-Health Ontario with a
new board and new senior management because I think we can do much
better in this area with much more aggressive timelines."

A
ministry spokesman said the opposition was wrong in claiming the C.
difficile information was released on the same day e-Health Ontario was
launched.

"The news release on e-Health was in fact issued three
days after the first release of C. difficile infection rates," said
Steve Erwin.

The opposition parties said they couldn't understand
how moving the implementation date for electronic health records in
Ontario from 2012 to 2015 could be considered a more aggressive
timeline.

They also complained that the new CEO of e-Health
Ontario, Sarah Kramer, spent $51,500 on new office furniture, but
Caplan said there are always startup costs with new agencies.

Kramer
said the old CEO's furniture was showing its age and needed to be
replaced, and insisted the new furnishings are appropriate for the
office.

"It's professional," she said. "It's definitely not opulent."

The Tories and New Democrats want the province's auditor general to look into the now-defunct Smart Systems for Health Agency.

"If
this government has nothing to hide, call in the auditor general, do
the value-for-money audit, and let's make sure that moving forward the
public can be confident their tax dollars are being well-spent," Witmer
said.

"Right now we have nothing to show whatsoever."

 
 
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