Dr. Swann in Question Period on Pure North S’Energy Foundation – 16 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Pure North S’Energy Foundation

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, the former PC government gave a $10 million grant to Pure North for a vitamin/mineral supplement program against the advice of medical officials who expressed concerns over its effectiveness and potential health risks. The NDP last year gave another $4.2 million to the same group for a nurse practitioner program led in a primary care clinic. Fourteen million dollars represents a significant investment in a group that third-party reviewers said should not receive funding. The Minister of Health claimed to have no knowledge of her ministry’s concerns before approving the grant, but an AHS briefing note suggests otherwise. To the minister: given the concerns . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. member. The Minister of Health.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. On what he does say about the $10 million for the wellness program, I have to agree. That’s one of the reasons why my department gave me advice not to extend the funding that was granted under the former government. Twice they gave me that advice; twice I acted on their very important advice. When it came to nurse practitioner demonstration projects, I think all members of this House – I hope all members of this House – would agree how valuable nurse practitioners are, particularly in working with vulnerable populations, and there are a number of different nurse practitioner demonstration projects currently under way just to prove that thing, Mr. Speaker.

Dr. Swann: CBC news reported that former AHS official Carl Amrhein reportedly has a history of participating in and lobbying for Pure North. This raises serious concerns about a potential conflict of interest in the awarding of both these grants. Albertans deserve to know what role he played and whether or not his involvement biased the approval process. I’ve asked the Auditor General to investigate, but perhaps the minister could set the record straight. Were you aware of your deputy and his conflict of interest, and if so, when?

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Health.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and again to the member for the question. It’s my understanding that Dr. Amrhein made his disclosure to the Ethics Commissioner. If the Ethics Commissioner wishes to look into this further, we certainly welcome that, and it’s my understanding that there were also questions today brought forward to the Auditor General. Again, if the Auditor General chooses to pursue that, we welcome that. The nurse practitioner project has very rigorous oversight, and we welcome that to any of the other decisions that were made under the former government, of course, as well.

Dr. Swann: It doesn’t sound like the minister wants to answer the question. In Public Accounts today I asked the assistant deputy minister if he was concerned that the latest $4.2 million grant to Pure North for a nurse practitioner led clinic program would be used to further the supplements of vitamins and minerals. He denied any connection to Pure North, which clearly views this as an extension of their program. Can the minister assure us that no megavitamins are being handed out by this clinic and table their contract?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much. Just to clarify, the disclosure was made to the Ethics Commissioner. I don’t recall any discus-sions that spoke to that specific matter with regard to the previous question. With regard to the nurse practitioner grant agreement, which this question relates to, the agreement very clearly spells out that Pure North must obtain written permission to use any of the information outside of the agreement, which has not been granted. If any organization does not follow the grant agreement, Pure North or any other, their funding could be discontinued. Clinicians are beholden to their colleges as well as to those who are granting this funding. We, of course, work in partnership with the colleges, but these are for nurse practitioners, RNs, LPNs, and health care aides.