Alberta’s former health minister heard complaints about queue-jumping, but did not investigate, and never saw anything proved, an inquiry has heard.
The testimony of Ron Liepert, who left office this year and is now a lobbyist, came on the same day that other witnesses denied helping anyone get preferential treatment in the health system or knowing of a case where someone had.
Mr. Liepert told the inquiry into allegations of queue jumping on Tuesday that it was not a minister’s job to look into whether prominent people, donors or VIPs were getting preferential access to health care.
“To me, I don’t know that there was anything proven. I can’t deny I never heard anything like that, but I certainly was never in a situation to hear that anything had been proven,” Mr. Liepert testified under oath, later adding that he “didn’t see that as being my job” to dig into the complaints.
He was the first of four witnesses called on Tuesday, a list that included Alberta Health Services chief of staff Patti Grier and former government relations officers Lynn Redford and Brian Hlus.
All testified they knew of no specific cases in which a prominent person jumped a queue.
Premier Alison Redford ordered the inquiry with limited terms of reference after months of pressure over controversies in Alberta’s health system. At a cost of $10-million, the quasi-judicial inquiry has yet to produce a smoking gun, and opposition politicians suggest it is a waste of time and money because it covers only queue jumping and will not look at claims of PC interference in health care.
The inquiry was in part spurred by former AHS chief executive officer Stephen Duckett, who cracked down on queue-jumping when he took the job three years ago. Mr. Duckett wrote in a 2009 memo that “preferential or expedited care for ‘prominent’ individuals” was “not uncommon” in Alberta. In testimony last week, he identified Mr. Hlus as a “Mr. Fix-it” and “go-to guy” for government officials with questions about constituents’ health-care problems.
Mr. Hlus, who was director of government affairs at Edmonton’s former Capital Health Authority, denied that in testimony on Tuesday, saying he simply helped MLAs and their staff navigate the system, but never contacted a doctor, hospital employee or dealt with any case in which a VIP got preferential care. Mr. Duckett banned the practice upon becoming CEO of the fledgling AHS health board, but has testified he knew of no specific cases.
Ms. Redford, a former government relations official for the Calgary Health region who now holds a senior role with AHS, said she helped MLAs and their staff navigate the system by making referrals, but never arranged preferential care for anyone while working as a government relations representative.
“I’ve not been involved in adjusting wait-lists of any sort nor have I been involved in [expediting] access for anyone,” added Ms. Redford, a long-time health administrator and the sister of Alberta’s Premier.
Asked about queue-jumping, Ms. Grier agreed that she “was not aware of anything in that regard.”
The inquiry resumes on Thursday.