Hundreds of Alberta Health Services employees might have to cut a cheque for their cell phone use as documents show $850,000 in “unacceptable” cell phone bills were charged to the health organization over an 18 month period.
A freedom of information request released on Friday by the Wildrose Opposition shows that a lack of a clear mobile device usage policies at AHS led to 875 instances of employees charging over $500 during a single month for wireless service between June 2013 and November 2014. There were also 134 instances where the bill was over $1,000, including a $10,750 charge by a senior manager for smartphone service.
“While patients are faced with increasing wait times for surgeries and access to emergency rooms, it’s outrageous that senior AHS managers and directors were leveling these types of massive cell phone bills on taxpayers,” said Wildrose Leader Heather Forsyth, saying AHS and the PC government did little to track the costs.
AHS called the charges “unacceptable” but noted that roughly 75 per cent of the charges came from front-line health care teams and physicians travelling abroad as representatives of AHS. In other instances, employees took their phones on vacation and the charges were a blend of personal and work-related usage.
“This type of usage has now stopped,” said AHS President and CEDO Vickie Kaminski. “The new policy outlines that AHS will not pay for roaming charges except in extraordinary cases.”
The highest usage charge, roughly $20,000, was incurred by a pediatric cardiology transplant physician who regularly travels for patient consultations. The physician did have a roaming package, said AHS, but it was “not sufficient.”
Kaminski said that AHS is contacting employees with “significant” bills and if it is determined that there was inappropriate use, AHS “will take the most appropriate action it can, including having employees pay back the money.”
AHS has rolled out a new mobile device policy that will mean international roaming will be disabled by default and staff will need to request special roaming packages when they travel for work. In addition, the approval process for who gets a mobile device – and what kind of mobile device – now requires executive approval.
Between home care, community care and mental health staff, AHS says there are approximately 4,000 cell phones and mobile devices in use every day and EMS teams alone have more than 3,900 cell phones and mobile devices.