Federal health minister backs leaders of BC FN health agency facing allegations of fostering ‘toxic’ workplace

Auditor General Michael Ferguson said allegations were “serious”

Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott says she backs the leadership of a ground-breaking First Nation health authority in British Columbia that has faced allegations of fostering a “toxic” work environment.

The Auditor General of Canada put the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) in B.C. under the microscope Tuesday when it released its fall 2015 report. Federal auditors launched a full audit of the FNHA after the office received an anonymous letter last year making explosive allegations against the leadership of the agency.

Following the release of the Auditor General’s report Philpott said she still had faith in the FNHA’s leadership, despite the allegations.

“I have met with the leadership and I was impressed with the work they have done and I will work alongside them to address the concerns that the Auditor General has raised,” said Philpott.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson recommended that Health Canada work with the FNHA to improve its governance and accountability which was found to be deficient.

Ferguson said the allegations contained in the anonymous letter were serious enough to examine how the FNHA responded to the complaints.

“We identified that the complaints that were made were serious enough that we wanted to know how the organization dealt with them,” said Ferguson, during a press conference in Ottawa.

Federal auditors examined the main thrust of the allegations which touched on the authority’s hiring practices, the treatment of employees, conflict of interest and remuneration.

Ferguson said federal auditors found evidence to support concerns around the authority’s hiring practices.

“In terms of hiring practices…we looked at 14 files and essentially could not find evidence that they were hiring on the basis of merit,” said Ferguson.

The auditor general’s report also found that the FNHA failed to follow its own internal policies when it came to handling internal complaints of inappropriate workplace behaviour.

The anonymous letter alleged the senior leadership in the FNHA created an environment of misogyny where bullying and sexual harassment went unpunished.

Lydia Hwitsum, chair of the FNHA board, said she still maintained full confidence in the FNHA’s senior leadership. She said the board is working toward improving the organization’s governance and accountability policy and frameworks.

Hwitsum said the allegations against the FNHA were found to be “unsubstantiated” after a review by the board.

“I have been the chair of the board since 2012 and I’m in a good position and have the obligation from the board’s perspective with respect to oversight,” she said. “So based on that I say ‘unsubstantiated’ based on the fact we also did an initial due diligence to ensure that our policies are being followed and consistent with the auditor generals’ recommendations.”

The FNHA was created through a tripartite agreement between Ottawa, B.C. and First Nations in the province. The FNHA is responsible for providing health services and programs to First Nation communities in B.C.

Philpott said the FNHA is a model that could be emulated in other provinces and territories.

The auditor general’s report found that the viability and success of the FNHA depended in part on its ability to improve its governance structures and policies.

“As the (FNHA) shifts from a period of transition to the delivery of programs and services, its success will depend on its ability to demonstrate that it has the accountability and governance framework in place and on its compliance with its policies,” said the report.

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