Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Care home delivers proposal to province

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THE province may be close to resolving its dispute with Bethania Group Personal Care Homes.

Manitoba Health has demanded Bethania Group void a contract with its CEO, Ray Koop, claiming it violates a government-imposed executive pay freeze.

It gave Bethania until April 2 to comply, threatening to take over the organization's operations if it failed to do so.

On Tuesday, both sides indicated the situation could be resolved in a matter of days.

In a statement distributed by its lawyer, Bethania said it has made a proposal to government which it believes will "satisfy all legitimate concerns."

In a comment to reporters, Health Minister Theresa Oswald said she is "encouraged" by the organization's offer, but will spend a few days weighing it.

Bethania Group, which operates personal-care homes on Pembina Highway and Concordia Avenue, ran afoul of the province following a provincial audit in December.

Investigators learned Koop had received a large pre-retirement payment last July 31, retired on Aug. 1, started collecting a pension and was rehired the next day with a salary increase. Before his retirement, he was earning $160,000 per year.

Manitoba Health declared the new contract between Bethania and Koop illegal, and demanded the organization repay monies paid to the CEO that exceeded his previous remuneration levels.

Bethania balked, claiming to have done nothing wrong. They said the new deal actually saved taxpayers over $14,000 per year in employer pension contributions and $2,000 per year in pre-retirement leave allowance.

Bethania receives $9.5 million a year to operate the two care homes, which have a total of 200 residents.

Neither Bethania nor the province would reveal the contents of Bethania's proposal on Tuesday. Koop has refused to be interviewed, as has his board of directors. The board has only issued statements through its lawyer.

In a statement Tuesday, Bethania expressed confidence its offer would be accepted.

"The government needs time to study it, but in speaking with a government official, we are optimistic that a resolution may be reached in the near future," the statement said.

Oswald said her department's initial view of Bethania's offer is that it "shows a lot of promise."

"Indeed, Bethania did meet the timeline in giving us a proposal of how they will endeavour to remedy the matter," the minister said. "What I have asked of them is that they terminate the illegal contract and that any monies paid out as a result of that illegal contract will be restored."

Manitoba Health imposed a wage freeze on senior managers in 2009 that also included senior management of personal-care homes.

A provincial law enacted last spring also prevents a health organization from entering into an employment contract with a CEO within one year of his or her employment termination.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 3, 2013 B2

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