Staff alerted about certain patients, AB queue-jumping inquiry told

Credits: Ian Kucerak/Edmonton Sun/QMI Agency


CALGARY - Senior health officials would alert staff to the presence of particular patients, sometimes at the behest of MLAs, an inquiry into queue-jumping heard Monday.

Sheila Weatherill said as a CEO with Edmonton's Capital Health prior to 2008, she would pass on alerts about certain patients, though she insisted there was no thought of that leading to better or quicker treatment.

"My intention was to make aware that an individual was in that system," Weatherill told the Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry which began hearings in Calgary Monday.

Inquiry counsel Michele Hollins grilled Weatherill on why such alerts would be shared, if not to ensure preferential care.

"When you expect these people to be treated equally, why didn't your office treat them equally?" she said.
Weatherill replied: "I felt there was value in passing it on, to senior people that these people were becoming part of the health system.

"There was no expectation, no direction given."

She said concerns surrounding such alerts centred around "privacy and security" and that she left it up to her underlings to act appropriately.

The inquiry was called after a 2009 memo from Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett surfaced speaking of how preferential treatment was expected for those with political connections.

Weatherill refused to divulge the name of at least one MLA who'd made a call informing them of a particular patient, insisting it would reveal the patient's identity and breach privacy rules.

"I would have known the name and the role," she said of the recognizability of the patients.

But Hollins, in a somewhat heated exchange, said public inquiries' right to know trumped such privacy laws.

Weatherill said such outside heads-up calls were infrequent and that most were made simply to seek help in navigating the medical system.

Earlier, former University of Alberta nurse Nick Juric testified he was ordered to place a patient ahead of a lung transplant recipient's treatment sometime around 2006.
"She demanded I basically scrub those arrangements and admit someone they had instead ... that was very unusual," he said.

Juric said his recollection was that the favoured patient was a health board member and that he initially refused the request, but when ordered to do so, contacted his union, the United Nurses of Alberta.

The inquiry is expected to run for the next two weeks in Calgary.

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