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Auditor blasts NDP government on STARS deal

March 20, 2014  By The Winnipeg Free Press

March 20, 2014, Winnipeg - The Selinger government ignored its own rules when it signed a deal with the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) helicopter air ambulance, auditor general Carol Bellringer says in a scathing report.

What's worse, the untendered, 10-year contract with STARS —
Bellinger says it will cost taxpayers almost $160 million during that
period — is the tip of the iceberg in a government procurement program
in which many contracts are awarded without a bidding process.

"It wasn't as though contracts were
awarded with no thought to it," Bellringer said Wednesday. "It's just
that it didn't comply with the way it's been set out."

The 443-page report is the largest single
auditor general's report submitted to the legislature and Bellringer's
last, as she retires at the end of the month. The province has yet to
find her replacement.


The report covers more than a dozen areas
in which the government and its various operations — at least those
audited — were found wanting in how money is spent and in

However, the most damning criticism
focused on how the STARS air ambulance became a full-time service during
the October 2011 election campaign. It comes two weeks after STARS was
allowed to fly in emergency cases following a three-week suspension. The
province grounded the service because of concerns over patient safety
following the death of a woman after a flight.

The report found besides not complying
with public tendering principles, contract information was not initially
made available to the public as set out in legislation. It also found
the province's value-for-money analysis for STARS was weak in that costs
per mission were likely to be 231 per cent to 618 per cent higher than
other EMS programs.

"(Manitoba) Health did not
conduct a detailed needs assessment to determine all the requirements,"
Bellringer said in the report. "Instead, it relied on STARS as the main
source to define program-delivery needs."

The report also found in five cases,
flight manifests were incomplete, four in which STARS ignored stand-down
directions, four instances in which a STARS referral emergency
physician could not be reached to consult on a patient-care matter and
an unspecified number of cases in which the helicopter landed when it
was not authorized.

Health Minister Erin Selby said the
government accepts each of Bellinger's recommendations and it will be
the work of a new clinical oversight committee, under University of
Manitoba dean of medicine Dr. Brian Postl, to address the concerns
highlighted by the auditor general and in an independent review into
patient care and air medical crew training.

"A helicopter service is just part of a modern EMS service," Selby said. "It's saved the lives of many Manitobans."

Opposition health critic Myrna Driedger
said Bellinger's report on STARS is a "scathing indictment of gross
mismanagement by the NDP government."

Driedger said most loathsome was how the
NDP used STARS to curry votes in the 2011 election. "I think the NDP
were in such a rush to get this helicopter before the election that they
didn't do proper scrutiny, they didn't do proper due diligence,"
Driedger said.


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