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McGuinty hand-picked Hudson to lead eHealth Add to ...

Alan Hudson was Premier Dalton McGuinty's hand-picked choice to modernize Ontario's health-care system and create a digital record of every resident's medical history.

Dr. Hudson, a neurosurgeon and former hospital chief executive officer, has earned the Premier's trust because he gets results, notably when he was in charge of the province's push to cut the amount of time that people wait for key medical procedures, a government official said. Dr. Hudson was the logical choice to become chairman of eHealth Ontario and take on the more complex challenge of bringing the province's medical records into the 21st century, the official said.

"You need to mobilize an entire system," he said. "That's the approach Alan was able to bring to wait times."

But the scandal at the agency over awarding lucrative contracts without competitive tenders will set back the McGuinty government's plans to create a digital record-keeping system by 2015 at a time when Ontario already lags behind other provinces, health-care officials say.

"Your family and my family and our neighbours and friends are going to wait a lot longer for simple electronic support for our health care system," said a senior health care executive.

The scandal has cast a cloud over the role of private-sector consultants in helping the Ministry of Health and its agencies modernize health care. Opposition members said the buck stops at the door of Dr. Hudson.

Mr. McGuinty has stood by Dr. Hudson, who frequently makes it known he has a close relationship with the premier.

"He often begins a conversation by saying, 'I've just returned from the premier's office,'" a former deputy health minister said.

Dr. Hudson was not available for comment.

Shortly after he became chairman of eHealth Ontario last September, he presided over the dismantling of the executive offices. Sarah Kramer, his protégé and long-time business associate who became chief executive officer last November, dismissed many executives and accepted the resignations of others. All told, seven of the nine senior executives left the agency, sources said.

The executives all received severance pay totalling about $1.5-million, said a former executive. In addition, eHealth Ontario paid $498,000 in severance to William Albino, Ms. Kramer's predecessor, and $236,000 in severance to Michael Rigo, a former vice-president, according to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.

Sources close to the situation said Ms. Kramer replaced many of the executives with consultants from Courtyard Group, a firm with close ties to Dr. Hudson and links to the McGuinty government.

"It was very clear that the people who were replaced were friends or part of the inner circle," said a former eHealth Ontario executive who asked not to be named.

Ms. Kramer resigned from the helm of eHealth Ontario last week.

Health-care professionals fear that many of the lucrative contracts awarded to consulting firms could be in jeopardy as the McGuinty government reviews how its agencies spend public funds on private firms. They said progress on many fronts would stall if bureaucrats assumed all the work.

Courtyard was awarded contracts valued at $3.5 million by the Health Ministry between 2003 - the year the McGuinty government took office - and March 31, 2008. As well, Courtyard got three untendered contracts worth just under $2 million from eHealth Ontario since last October, the documents show. Dr. Hudson and Michael Guerriere, a managing director at Courtyard, worked together at University Health Network.

Courtyard has said it was contracted by the Health Ministry to play a leading role in several components of the province's wait-time strategy led by Dr. Hudson, including managing the development of an information system.

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