Improper claims said to have run as high as $403,647 over six years
By Steve Rennie, The Canadian Press
The Mounties are investigating a senior B.C. health official accused of bilking a remote aboriginal community out of possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Canadian Press has learned the RCMP was called in after federal investigators discovered the official's questionable billings to a First Nation community in B.C.'s northern Interior.
The allegations revolve around claims that the official was providing counselling to the Tl'azt'en Nation when he was actually working in another city for the province's northern health authority.
Acting on a tip, Health Can-da called in its special exami-ation unit in March 2010.
The Canadian Press obtained the investigators' report - dated March 21, 2012 - under the Access to Information Act.
Investigators found the man regularly billed the Tl'azt'en Nation - which receives money from the federal government through transfer agreements - 40 hours a month, eight hours a day, for psychologist services.
But most days he claimed to be at the Tl'azt'en Nation, investigators say he was actually working for B.C. Northern Health in Prince George, some 220 kilometres away.
"This observation questioned the third party's capacity to concurrently fulfil work obligations under his demanding role at BCNHA and provide mental-health services in the remote communities of Tl'azt'en Nation during the regular work week," the Health Canada report says. "This individual would have worked at least a 14-hour day aside from the travel time. ... It is improbable members of Tl'azt'en communities would be receiving counselling services so late in the evening," it adds.
Health Canada alleges the man "falsely" invoiced for 11 days, "improbably" invoiced for another 51 days, and overbilled for travel, to the tune of $84,017. Over six years, however, the investigators allege the improper claims may have run as high as $403,647. "In our opinion, the allegation against the third party in billing Tl'azt'en Nation for services not rendered is founded," the document says. Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq insisted the money will be recovered. "Unfortunately, there are a few bad eggs that cause distractions, but I can say that I take it very seriously," she said.
"It's absolutely unacceptable to have health care professionals double-billing and stealing from Canadian taxpayers in the health care system. And these individuals - the few of them, fortunately - are a distraction from the very important role health care professionals make into our system."
The allegations come to light as part of an ongoing, months-long investigation by The Canadian Press into alleged wrongdoing involving federal money for aboriginal health care.
A spokeswoman for Health Canada confirmed the RCMP have been called in.
"Health Canada takes active measures to investigate, recover funds, and refer cases to policing and regulatory bodies when appropriate," Sylwia Krzyszton wrote in an email. "This matter has been referred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and it would be inappropriate to comment at this time."
Health Canada and the Tl'azt'en Nation are working on a plan to recover the money, Krzyszton added.
Northern Health said it wasn't aware of the case. Because Health Canada does not name the worker in its report, the provincial agency declined to comment on the findings.
The psychologist's case is the latest in a string of alleged abuses of federal money for aboriginal health care by pharmacies, a health clinic and a remote nursing station - all of which have purportedly cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
Some of those other allegations so far include: . Staff at a remote nursing station in northern Ontario who allegedly authorized expensive medical flights to go grocery shopping; . A Manitoba pharmacist who agreed to pay back thousands of dollars to the federal government for an alleged over-billing scheme; . A New Brunswick First Nations health centre where half a million dollars that came from federal contribution agreements was allegedly misappropriated.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.