For the second time in two weeks, hundreds of health-care workers received vaccine appointment reminders with the wrong address, forcing the provincial government to back-pedal from the error and put the private company responsible "on training wheels," according to internal emails from one of the top officials overseeing Manitoba’s vaccine rollout.
The day before the province’s Brandon Keystone Centre COVID-19 vaccination clinic was set to open, government staff and senior communications advisers were discussing how to manage the repeat mistake, which saw 558 incorrect text messages go out to health-care workers, directing them to the Winnipeg RBC Convention Centre address instead of the clinic in Brandon.
The same thing happened when the convention centre clinic opened in early January; hundreds of health-care workers who’d booked appointments there received texts directing them to a closed clinic instead. Emails obtained by the Opposition show the government pins the blame for both incidents on a contracted company, PetalMD.
"What, if any, are the consequences for this repeat error? Some kind of contractual penalty? Credit applied to whatever government is paying for the service? Reassignment of the person responsible for the error? Or are we just shrugging our shoulders and using the Britney Spears response of ‘Oops! I did it again,’" wrote Blake Robert, the province’s director of media relations and issues management, questioning how the government should respond to what he described as "inevitable media questions" about the mix-up.
In response, senior civil servant Paul Beauregard wrote the province will start double checking the reminders before they’re sent out.
"We are now creating processes where we are checking PetalMD’s work. This is the same organization used by over 37,000 doctors across Canada. They are the largest, most reputable player in the space. They have now done this to us — twice. We are going to put them on training wheels," Beauregard wrote.
Beauregard, Treasury Board secretary and adviser to Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister, is stepping down from his Treasury Board duties but staying on to oversee the province’s pandemic response. He copied a member of the NDP on the email chain, which is how the party obtained them, said NDP leader Wab Kinew. "Another mistake," Kinew said Sunday.
Corrected reminder messages were sent out shortly afterward, a provincial spokesperson confirmed Sunday. But Kinew said the mistake is about more than sending health-care workers in the wrong direction. He said the NDP has questions about the contract to PetalMD, a Quebec City-based company with offices in Montreal, Regina and Paris that designs cloud-based apps for medical scheduling and billing. The province disclosed in November a $436,400 contract with PetalMD that appears to be untendered, Kinew said.
"To me this mistake, it kind of wraps up all the flaws that the PCs have been making throughout the pandemic in one move. It’s got the poor planning, the lack of attention to detail, and the focus on privatizing at the expense of quality," Kinew said.
A representative of PetalMD couldn’t be reached for comment Sunday.
In a statement, a provincial spokesperson confirmed the incorrect messages went out Saturday, and wrote that "the human error was quickly addressed by a follow-up text. Government is conducting a review to ensure the service provider is held accountable and that the mistake does not occur again. People with appointments are asked to keep them as scheduled."
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.