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Government & policy

Deputy health minister steps down in Ontario

TORONTO – Ontario’s deputy health minister, Ron Sapsford (pictured), a key figure in the eHealth imbroglio and one of the most highly paid civil servants in the province, has announced his resignation from the bureaucracy.

Sapsford is the latest departure after the eruption of the eHealth Ontario scandal, a series of revelations about the province’s largely failed $1 billion investment to create electronic health records.

He also made headlines in October after the Toronto Star publicized his nearly $500,000 a year salary was funnelled through Hamilton Health Sciences to circumvent government pay guidelines for senior bureaucrats.

The eHealth scandal emerged in May when it was revealed that eHealth Ontario handed out nearly $5 million in untendered contracts to high-priced consultants who billed nearly $3,000 a day.

Last month, Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter reported the province had spent $1 billion of taxpayers’ money, with little return on investment, in the 10-year effort to bring health records online.

The eHealth Ontario scandal has led to the departure of a number of key figures in Premier Dalton McGuinty’s second-term government. David Caplan quit as health minister in October. EHealth Ontario CEO Sarah Kramer left in June, as did Dr. Alan Hudson, the eHealth board chair who was McGuinty’s healthcare guru and problem-solver.

This month, eHealth Ontario let go two vice-presidents, Robin Tonna and Deanna Allen, in a restructuring bid to save about $250,000, said interim CEO Rob Devitt.

As deputy health minister for the past five years, Sapsford oversaw eHealth Ontario’s predecessor, Smart Systems for Health Agency – which was launched in 2002 and lambasted by critics in 2007 for spending $647 million with little to show for it. The agency was dissolved last year.

Sapsford was behind the electronic health programs branch in the health ministry and the creation of the eHealth Ontario agency.

He recently told a legislative committee looking into the eHealth affair that he was not aware untendered contracts were given out until he read about it in the press. He also disputed that $1 billion was wasted. He argued there was value obtained for the money spent, but he did acknowledge “some mistakes were made in the management of procurements” on a couple of projects.

Sapsford, a former chief operating officer at Hamilton Health Sciences, was appointed deputy health minister in March 2005. A grandfather who holds a bachelor of science degree from the University of Toronto and a masters in health administration from the University of Ottawa, he also is a director on the boards of Canada Health Infoway and the Canadian Institute for Health Information.