Government & policy
WRHA accepted “brown envelopes” in
WINNIPEG – A political fracas has
broken out concerning the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and its
controversial “brown envelope” policy of accepting money and other
benefits from medical equipment suppliers who are awarded contracts.
Political critics are calling for an immediate audit into how the city’s
health authority spent more than $20 million it received from medical
suppliers who won health contracts.
The money and gifts fall under the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s
“value-added” policy – a practice that falls in an ethical grey area and
states that WRHA senior management may accept money and other benefits
given out by medical suppliers awarded contracts.
Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen slammed the policy’s potential to corrupt the
tendering process, and said he will ask the provincial auditor to
investigate all money received. McFadyen said the NDP government should
condemn the WRHA’s current practice and that he wants to know which
companies gave money, where the money went, and whether the “extras” in
brown envelopes influenced who won the contract.
An investigation by the Winnipeg Free Press found that the WRHA has
accepted more than $20 million in money, equipment and other gifts
handed over in brown envelopes from medical suppliers who won contracts
in the region since 2000. Health officials would not provide a detailed
breakdown of which medical supply companies provided unrestricted funds
or other grants once they were awarded a contract, or how the money was
According to the Free Press, documents show the WRHA received more than
$2.2 million in unrestricted cash from suppliers that was allocated to
other accounts as an extra source of funding – including the corporate
department, which accepted more than $1.1 million.
The WRHA has also accepted more than $17.9 million in other funds put
toward research, equipment and hospital programs at the discretion of
the medical supply company, including thousands of dollars that went
toward equipment and operating costs of surgery and critical care.
“This is a practice which is not in any way appropriate, and one which
gives rise to serious questions about how contracts are awarded within
the health authority under the NDP government,” McFadyen said. “The
signal it sends throughout the system is that if you’re involved in
awarding contracts it’s acceptable to receive personal benefits.”
WRHA CEO Dr. Brian Postl defended the practice Monday, saying it keeps
any extras out of the bid so it doesn’t have any influence on who gets
the contract. While other organizations – like the City of Winnipeg –
require all value-adds be outlined in the tender bid, Postl said
including that information could distort how health contracts are
He said Manitoba Health knew the WRHA had extra income flowing in from
medical suppliers, but that the money has nearly dried up since the
region decided to stop taking restricted value-adds.
“I think they’re trying to politicize something that isn’t necessary...
there’s no impropriety here,” he said.
Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard called the policy “disturbing” and said it
raises serious questions about whether the WRHA has been paying more
than it should have for certain contracts or if they’ve accepted health
products that aren’t in Manitobans’ best interests.
“I think we need to know more about what’s happening,” Gerrard said.
“We’ve had a huge increase in health-care costs and it raises concerns
that sometimes we’ve been paying more than we should have.”
Arthur Schafer, University of Manitoba professor of ethics, said an
easier way o eliminate conflict of interest is to get rid of a policy
that allows the WRHA
to accept gifts, period. He said there is no “free lunch” and doctors
and the WRHA shouldn’t be taking any gifts.