The report by KPMG into the operation of Algoma Health Unit a few years back has never been released, mainly because of the efforts of former medical officer of health Kim Barker to prevent it.
Barker, a central figure in the circus playing out at the health agency at that time over her hiring of a convicted felon as interim chief financial officer, appeared to have lost out when SooToday launched a request for the report under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the province’s privacy commissioner ruling that a “compelling public interest in the disclosure” outweighed her privacy concerns.
But Barker was not to be deterred
She appealed to Ontario’s Divisional Court and it sided with her.
But Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish, not to be outdone, took the case to the Ontario Court of Appeal and in April it ordered full release of the report, which had been commissioned by APH’s board.
Barker is now looking to the Supreme Court of Canada for help.
I trust she won’t get it.
Although a lot of time has passed and what went on at APH back in 2013-15 is no longer front and centre in the public conscience in this community, the report still should be released in its entirety.
Because although there were numerous news reports, there has never been a full reporting of what went on from those who were investigating it from the inside.
The controversy surrounding the agency came about with the revelation that Shaun Rothberg, hired as interim chief financial officer, was actually Shaun Rootenberg, who, after pleading guilty to multiple counts of fraud involving more than $2 million, had served time in Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst.
When the news broke about who Rothberg really was, Algoma Public Health issued a news release that said:
“The board of Algoma Public Health and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Kim Barker were shocked today to learn of information regarding a recent consultant, Shaun Rothberg, who provided services through a consultant retained by the board to provide interim financial assistance pending the hiring of a new chief financial officer.
“While the APH’s experience with Mr. Rothberg was defined by professionalism, and contributed directly to the resolution of a number of complex and longstanding issues, the board of health takes the revelations very seriously and is conducting an audit through an independent audit firm to ensure the integrity of its financial statements.”
Former APH board member Karen Marinich, who was there when Rothberg was brought on staff for six months at a salary of $4,000 a week plus expenses, disputed that his services were obtained through a consultant.
She told me Rothberg was hired solely on Barker’s recommendation, with nothing about his background provided to the board, and she produced minutes of an in-committee meeting of Nov. 20, 2013, to back up her claim.
Titled BA (business administrator), Hiring Update, the minutes read:
“Dr. Barker spoke to the in-depth work to be done in administration, suggesting that an interim financial officer be hired until which time the business administrator position is filled. She relayed that six responses were received from recruiting firms but that the cost to secure this service was extensive. Dr. Barker spoke to an opportunity that arose in partnership with the GHC (Group Health Centre) and proposed that the board consider approving an interim candidate who has developed a relationship with the GHC and could assist in fostering this partnership – a model for public health and primary care working together.
“Discussion took place. The board was in agreement to hire the recommended financial officer pending his availability to provide ‘full-time’ interim service to Algoma Public Health. It was also agreed that the resolution to employ recruitment services for the BA position, which was passed at the October board meeting, be rescinded and resolution 2013-111 was passed in open meeting. The board reiterated that operational functions such as this proposed hiring are at the discretion of the MOH and that Dr. Barker could notify the board of such changes not requiring approval from the board.”
I said at the time I had a hard time taking from this that a consultant had any involvement in the hiring of Rothberg (Rootenberg), even though Barker, Marchy Bruni, chair of the APH board, and Ron Hulse, the consultant referred to, insisted that was the case.
And for the record, Alex Lambert, chief executive officer of the Group Health Centre, had told me GHC did not have a relationship with Rothberg, if he indeed was the person Barker was referencing.
I also said I couldn’t see how a chief financial officer, albeit interim, wouldn’t have required a background check by police when those who simply volunteer at APH do.
Actually, I would have thought Barker would have done some digging on her own, not only on a professional level but personal as well, considering how close they had become..
But then, as they say, love, if that is what it was, is blind.
Ironically Barker now is saying that she is legally blind, a claim I hadn’t heard previously.
In the Canadian Press story which revealed her attempt to get to the Supreme Court, she was quoted as saying she is legally blind as a result of contracting malaria in Tanzania in 2003.
She maintains releasing the KPMG report would make her a double victim.
“What I object to is my revictimization by releasing information in the report about how Mr. Rootenberg exploited my disability to manipulate me,” Barker said. “It is personally hurtful to have to admit that my visual disability allowed me to become the victim of a professional con man.”
I can’t see that holding up. If she could run an operation the size of Algoma Public Health, surely she shouldn’t have had any trouble seeing the man sitting across from her at the breakfast table. It wasn’t her eyesight that got her in trouble.
Barker was forced to resign as MOH because of the revelation about Rothberg but she was handsomely rewarded in a severance package negotiated by Bruni and APH lawyer Bob Paciocco, a deal that reeked of conflict.
Because aside from their roles at APH, a corporation profile report dated Jan. 28, 2014, showed all three as members of the board of Algoma Medicinal Alliance (AMA), a marijuana grow operation that developer Amit Sofer was hoping to obtain a federal licence to establish in the Sault.
Barker, in fact, had been listed as president, secretary and treasurer as Sofer was seemingly attempting to present AMA as a community project with Joe Fratesi, then the city’s chief administrative officer, also on the four-person board.
Actually it was not only the revelation of Rothberg’s past that was catching the attention of the public in the city at that time, it was also for the fiasco of getting APH, a health agency, involved with a marijuana grow operation.
This led to more fall-out with Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, seeking and receiving the resignations of Chair Marchy Bruni, who was and is a city councillor, Vice-Chair Sandra Blake and board members Wawa Mayor Ron Rody and Debbie Kirby..
Barker became Nunavut’s chief medical officer of health after leaving APH and held that position from January 2016 to October 2018, when she told CBC News she’d been fired without notice or cause.
She now lives in Toronto.