Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Care home's board upset with publicity

Says province acting unfairly

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The board of the embattled Bethania Group Personal Care Homes is upset that Health Minister Theresa Oswald has gone public over the government's dispute with the company.

The board said Sunday Oswald should have treated the matter confidentially -- but if it did have to go public, Oswald should have been fair and accurate in what the province said.

"A difference has arisen with the government over the contractual terms arrived at between Bethania and a valued employee," the board said in a news release from its lawyer. "Bethania hoped to resolve this matter through good faith and mutually respectful discussions, and in a manner respecting the privacy rights of all concerned. It still hopes that the government will return to this method of resolving matters."

But Oswald said she has nothing for which to apologize.

"The very reason we passed Bill 6 was to achieve better accountability and transparency in the health-care system, and ensure taxpayers' money is used responsibly. In that spirit, the full audit that uncovered the August 2012 'retire-rehire' of Bethania's CEO has been posted online, including the board's response as part of that audit," Oswald said.

"We remain optimistic that the board will decide to comply with provincial law and follow the direction from Manitoba Health, and they have until April 2 to respond."

The dispute became public on Thursday.

The provincial Health Department ordered a Winnipeg personal-care-home group to terminate what the government believes is an illegal contract with its chief executive officer. Oswald said Thursday her department is demanding the contract be voided and any illegal payments returned to the government.

Bethania, which operates facilities on Pembina Highway and Concordia Avenue, has until April 2 to comply with the order. If it fails to do so, the province could replace its board of directors.

The order was made following an audit of Bethania Group -- which receives $9.5 million in provincial funding annually -- in December, Oswald said. Investigators found a new contract between the group and CEO Ray Koop violated a government-imposed pay freeze as well as legislation passed last year.

The audit found Bethania's board of directors allowed Koop to retire from his $160,000-a-year position last July 31, collect a preretirement payment worth nearly half his annual salary on Aug. 1, and start a new contract in the same position on Aug. 2 with a salary increase -- all while a government-imposed executive salary freeze was in place.

Oswald said that the independent audit is posted at www.wrha.mb.ca/bethania.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Bethania board responds

The Bethania board emphasized several points Sunday it contends the government has ignored.

-- When the valued and respected executive in question moved to a different role in the corporate family, the cost of his overall employer cost did not increase. It went down, because it was no longer necessary for an employer to pay pension contributions. Furthermore, the employee no longer received preretirement leave allowance.

-- The employee would have received his pension, earned over a course of three decades of employment, in any event. The contract would have paid him remuneration, apart from his pension, for service apart from his previous work.

-- Bethania concluded that a legally binding new contract was made with its employee before Bill 6 was announced. Bethania is ethically and legally obliged to honour its contractual commitments. Legislation is generally interpreted as not taking away contractual rights that had already been created before it comes into force.

-- Bethania's mission is to provide the best possible care for its residents. In the course of doing so, it seeks to follow the principles of good internal governance, co-operate with government and use both private and public funds properly and efficiently.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 25, 2013 A5

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