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Health authority CEO fired after report released into alleged misspending

The CEO of a B.C. health agency has been dismissed on the same day a report was released into alleged misspending under his watch.

The board of directors of the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) has "decided to part ways" with Benoit Morin, said B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix on Tuesday. 

The report, commissioned by the ministry, comes after CBC News brought forward concerns raised by multiple sources, who claimed, among other things, that PHSA purchased and eventually wrote off roughly $7 million worth of unusable face masks from a Montreal-based vendor.

The whistleblowers also criticized a decision to redo $17 million worth of renovations at PHSA headquarters, for an added cost of $400,000, in order to supposedly to give Morin a better view of downtown Vancouver and the North Shore Mountains.

They also accused 18 PHSA executives and their assistants of enjoying catered meals in the early days of the pandemic.

Morin was hired in February 2020, with a salary of $352,000 a year. His accommodation and a car were also provided as part of his relocation package from Montreal, where he'd worked previously. 

Dix confirmed in an interview Morin was dismissed without cause and will receive a severance consistent with his contract, which amounts to about nine months.

In its review of the alleged misspending, the accounting firm Ernst & Young found "no evidence of any pre-existing relationship" between Morin and the mask vendor, but did observe a disconnect between the CEO, the board and PHSA staff regarding "the appropriate course of action" regarding Montreal-based company.

Specifically, the review found PHSA staff wanted "to start legal action" after it was determined the masks did not meet B.C.'s PPE testing protocols, but that Morin and the board disagreed, preferring to negotiate. When that failed, the report says, other PHSA executives pursued legal action without informing the board or Morin.

Ernst & Young also reports that the Montreal-based vendor filed for bankruptcy in January and that "the likelihood of any significant recovery" is low. The PHSA provides access to a provincial network of health-care services. 

'Lack of loyalty'

The report also states that several staff departures, including PHSA's chief internal auditor were tied, at least in part, to "a perceived lack of loyalty to, and/or friction with" Morin.

According to Ernst & Young, Morin sought to have the auditor terminated for their role in examining the conflict of interest allegation against him. The board of directors eventually did fire the employee, citing their handling of the allegation and perceived "capacity to continue with the organization."

Three other executives also left during Morin's relatively short reign.

Ernst & Young's findings indicate that Morin and the PHSA board objected to their financial team's decision to write off the $6.95-million mask purchase when it was determined the PPE failed to meet provincial testing protocols.

The report indicates that Morin took his concerns to the board, which felt the issue should be further examined by the PHSA external auditors. An engineer was also contacted to determine if the masks could be repurposed.

This pushback caused friction between PHSA leadership and the organization's finance team, who worried it affected their ability to "make accounting decisions based on their professional judgment."

The write-off, says Ernst & Young, was ultimately supported by the external auditors and the chair of the audit committee.

Work environment, leadership

Investigator John Bethel also reports that other areas of concern were raised in the course of his interviews with more than 40 PHSA staff, including Morin and the board.

These included the aforementioned renovations to PHSA headquarters, hiring and compensation within the CEO's office, and the health authority's culture, work environment and leadership.

The report presents no concrete findings on these matters, but indicates they have been discussed with the deputy health minister.

The PHSA, meanwhile, has announced Dr. David Byers, who previously served as the Ministry of Health's associate deputy minister, will serve as interim CEO.  

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