Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bethania board puts CEO on leave amid probe

Province cites new facts following WRHA audit

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The board of two city faith-based personal-care homes has placed its CEO on administrative leave while an independent investigator probes allegations of nepotism, staff intimidation and financial mismanagement.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald announced the probe into the management of the Bethania Group on Friday.

Bethania CEO Ray Koop will be on paid leave while the investigation is carried out. Oswald said she launched the investigation as a result of new information that has come to light since the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority conducted an audit of Bethania last winter and the minister publicly demanded the organization rip up its employment contract with Koop because it contravened government policy.

"These new allegations are numerous and serious and must be investigated," Oswald said Friday. She would not reveal any details.

'These new allegations are numerous and serious and must be investigated' -- Health Minister Theresa Oswald

Bethania board chairman Jake Neufeld was quoted in a government press release as supporting the review. "We would like to assure all of our residents and their families that the Bethania board does take the concerns raised regarding governance and management at Bethania very seriously," he was quoted as saying.

However, in an interview, Neufeld was skeptical that the probe would reveal much in the way of wrongdoing. "We're pretty confident that the investigation is not going to prove a lot," he said.

Oswald went public in March with concerns Bethania had broken provincial rules by giving Koop a pay raise during a government freeze on executive salaries. The province also said Bethania broke a law restricting health facilities from rehiring former senior managers.

Koop received a pre-retirement payout, retired and was rehired, at a higher salary all within the space of a few days last summer.

The Bethania Group is an independently run Mennonite and Christian-centred personal-care home and housing operation. It receives $9.5 million in annual government funding to operate care homes on Pembina Highway and Concordia Avenue.

On Friday, Oswald announced the board -- which had previously denied it acted wrongly in boosting Koop's pay -- had agreed to nix the new contract with Koop and repay any funds over and above what would have been paid to him under his old contract.

"I commend them for that," the minister said of the board.

Oswald said she wanted to make it clear the government has no issue with the quality of care at either personal-care home. The Health Department made unannounced visits to both locations recently to ensure care was on the up and up and came away satisfied.

Oswald said she also wanted to dispel the notion that the government lacks confidence in faith-based institutions, noting she has become aware of "little messages being handed out in church programs" to that effect.

"We love our faith-based institutions. What we don't love is bad leadership and bad governance, and we want to fix that," she told reporters at her office in the legislature.

Koop could not be reached for comment on Friday.

The government had still to appoint the independent investigator as of midday Friday. No deadline has been set for the investigator's report.

The province said information about the investigation and confidential contact information for the investigator will be posted by next week at www.gov.mb.ca/health/bethania.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2013 A7

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