Saturday, August 08, 2009

That's $7.35 per word, $967.68 per minute for 25 minutes and 27 seconds taxpayers!

EHealth CEO's speech cost taxpayers $25,000
Numerous revisions to Sarah Kramer's speech added up to big bill
August 8, 2009
Sarah Kramer received a bonus of $114,000 five months after starting her job as eHealth CEO. (VINCE TALOTTA/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)

Full text of Sarah Kramer's speech (pdf) A $24,675.88 SPEECH ... BY THE NUMBERS

$7.35 = Cost per word

$967.68 = Costper minute: It took Sarah Kramer 25 minutes, 27 seconds to deliver the speech

6 = Names dropped: Ed Brown, Dalton McGuinty, Gail Paech, Frederick Banting, Charles Best, John F. Kennedy

6 = Geographical references: Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta, Denmark, Guelph, United States

1 = JFK quotes: “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”

Hugh MacPhie
Speechwriter, self-employed
He billed: $7,000 flat rate

Miyo Yamashita
Anzen Consulting Inc.
Hourly rate: $300
She billed: $7,725

Karli Farrow
Courtyard Group
Hourly rate: $328
She billed: $2,132

Naomi Zittell
Anzen Consulting Inc.
Hourly rate: $200
She billed: $4,325

Michael Guerriere
Medical doctor, Courtyard Group
Hourly rate: $393
He billed: $1,768.50

Rebecca Cooper
Courtyard Group
Hourly rate: $214
She billed: $1,725.38

Compiled by Andrew Bailey

A speech to the Ontario Hospital Association by former eHealth CEO Sarah Kramer last November cost taxpayers an estimated $25,000, a Star investigation shows.

Documents obtained under freedom-of-information legislation show one speech writer and five different consultants charged taxpayers for the speech.

The consultants billed from $200 to about $393 an hour to revise, edit, discuss and brainstorm Kramer's first address as leader of the agency.

Consultants even discussed planting questions in the crowd after Kramer gave her Nov. 4 address to the OHA HealthAchieve meeting, documents show.

The estimated $25,000 speech is the latest example of how taxpayers' dollars were spent at an agency that relied heavily on consultants to speed up Ontario's effort to modernize health records.

New Democrat MPP France Gélinas (Nickel Belt) said every step of the way consultants seemed to have "helped themselves to taxpayers' money."

"A $25,000 speech?'' asked Gelinas. "I've never heard of that kind of money for a speech in the health-care system. Some people don't make that in a year."

Even an eHealth official acknowledged the costs seemed high.

For the past four months, the spending scandal at eHealth has dogged the Liberal government. The mess deepened when it was recently revealed the Crown agency gave out $16 million in untendered contracts, not the previously reported $5 million, to get the newly created eHealth up and running.

EHealth was formed in September 2008 after the previous Smart Systems For Health Agency, a body publicly criticized with squandering $647 million in taxpayers' funds, was dissolved by the government.

Kramer's speech, entitled "Harnessing Technology and Innovation for Better Patient Care and Safety," outlines what she called "this new phase in Ontario's eHealth journey."

"A philosophy I've always had ... if you work with great teams, and if you believe in your cause, you can accomplish anything,'' she told the crowd of hospital executives and health-care experts.

In the speech, given on the same day as the historic 2008 U.S. election, Kramer also quoted the late American president John F. Kennedy.

Hugh MacPhie, a one-time speech writer for former premier Mike Harris, wrote the speech for $7,000. MacPhie & Company made revisions until a few days before Kramer delivered it, MacPhie told the Star.

"We were contracted by Anzen (Consulting Inc.) to write Sarah's speech," MacPhie said in an email. "As is normally the case, our client was involved in discussions and provided comments on drafts."

Costs skyrocketed after consultants from Courtyard Group Ltd. and Anzen pored over the speech to make revisions, edits and brainstorm potential questions and answers.

It is difficult for the Star to calculate the precise cost of the speech because many of the billing documents also included other work for eHealth.

The Star examined weeks of itemized consultant billings. Any entry that contained a mention of the OHA speech was included in the estimate. If the billing was for more than three hours, the Star calculated the speech-related costs at one-quarter of the time if multiple tasks were itemized, often giving the consultants the benefit of the doubt.

The majority of the bills that were for three hours and less dealt totally with the speech.

Based on that formula, the speech cost $24,675.88.

Documents show the consultants at Anzen considered asking a planted question.

"Discuss Sarah Kramer's preparation for call with (Ontario information and privacy commissioner) Ann Cavoukian and planted questions and answers for OHA speech with Rebecca Cooper," reads one billing entry from Anzen consultant initialled NZ, documents show.

There were many contributors to the speech, which required multiple revisions, according to an Anzen spokesperson, who responded to the Star's questions via email.

"The work was completed at the client's request. We are experts in privacy and communications and were hired to do work appropriate to our expertise," said Anzen's Declan Treacy.

Cavoukian told the Star she was never approached to ask a specific question after Kramer's speech but she did attend it and ask her own question.

Cavoukian said she is a vocal critic of Ontario's slow electronic health records effort. "I'm sure if they asked me, I would have said, `You know me, I always ask questions, and I will be very critical if I pose a question,'" she said.

Cavoukian said she thought the speech was "good."

A $7,000 fee for an important speech is a good rate, said eHealth spokesperson Deanna Allen.

"The extra attention required here, I am not sure why it was required," Allen said. "But when you look at it, it seems to be over and above what would be market value."

It is "thorough communications practice" to plant questions in a speech, said Allen. "If you were going to be setting up a speech of significance, which this one was, or any speech that a CEO is making, or a dignitary, you want to make sure after the speech is over you don't have dead air," she said. "The common practice is to have questions ready in the event no hands are raised."

The Star investigation shows six consultants worked on the speech.

Courtyard managing partner Dave Wattling commented on the Star's questions via email.

"Our client, eHealth Ontario, asked us to review and provide comments and revisions to the keynote OHA speech," the email said.

"We spent a total of 6 to 8 hours reviewing and editing which we believe is certainly within the industry standard."

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak called the speech the latest example of wasteful spending at eHealth.

"This example seems stranger than fiction," Hudak said. "It certainly looks like Liberally-connected Courtyard Group had its finger in almost every pie."

Courtyard denies they are connected to the Liberal party.

Early next month, provincial Auditor General Jim McCarter is expected to deliver his investigation into the agency.


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