Spouse of senior official began work for BC FN health agency days after federal audit questioned hiring practices

FNHA confirmed COO hired ‘domestic partner’

Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The spouse of a top official with the First Nations Health Authority began working for the ground-breaking British Columbia-based organization days after the Auditor General of Canada issued a report highlighting problems in its governance practices, APTN National News has learned.

Six days after Auditor General Michael Ferguson released the results of an audit on Feb. 2 into the First Nations Health Authority’s (FNHA) conflict of interest and hiring practices, the spouse of Richard Jock, the agency’s chief operating officer, began working as a specialist in the mental wellness program section of the organization.

Virginia Toulouse, who began work on Monday, is listed in an organizational chart that leads directly the chief operating officer, according to an internal document seen by APTN.

The FNHA issued a statement confirming that Toulouse is employed by the FNHA and that she is the COO’s spouse. The statement said “Mr. Jock and Ms. Toulouse are domestic partners and have completed the FNHA conflict of interest process and procedure.”

The statement also said FNHA hired her through an “open competition including public posting, written assessment and interview process.”

The statement said, “Ms. Toulouse brings 18 years’ experience working with residential school survivors and 36 years of experience in health.” The statement said she reports to the director of mental wellness.

This is the second, publicly known instance were the spouse of a senior FNHA official has found employment within the organization.

The spouse of CEO Joe Gallagher also works for the FNHA.

The Office of the Auditor General launched the audit of the FNHA after it received an anonymous letter containing explosive allegations claiming the leadership of the organization fostered a “toxic” work environment. One of the allegations concerned the hiring of the CEO’s wife.

The Auditor General’s audit focused on how the FNHA responded to the allegations in the anonymous letter, including one around a conflict of interest “involving (FNHA) employees.” While the report found that, on the surface, it appeared that FNHA’s board handled the issue adequately, it recommended the authority tighten up its protocol on the issue.

“It is important in such situations that the authority can demonstrate that perceived or real conflicts of interest are dealt with transparently,” said the auditor’s report said. “Perceived conflicts of interest may have the same impact on the reputation and functioning of the organization as actual conflicts of interests do.”

The federal auditors found several instances where there was little evidence to support the qualifications of individuals hired by the FNHA after reviewing the personnel files of 14 managers.

The auditors found that only three of the 14 positions had been publicly posted or had a rational for why no competition was offered. The audit found that only six of the 14 personnel files had a resume on record and only two contained documentation supporting the claimed education level. Auditors also discovered that only three of the managers had undergone a background check.

The FNHA is the product of over a decade of work that created a ground-breaking First Nation agency designed to deliver health programs and services to First Nation communities in B.C.

The FNHA was created through the officially named Tripartite Framework Agreement on First Nation Health Governance between B.C., Ottawa and First Nations.

The FNHA is slated to receive $4.7 billion in funding from 2013 to 2023. The agreement includes an annual 5.5 escalator for its first five years.

The Auditor General said the FNHA’s creation solved some of the persistent problems that cripple health services for First Nations.

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