N.B. physicians’ college has ‘total confidence’ in medical officer despite employment history

The employment history of the Saint John region’s medical officer of health, which has come under fire through a recently released audit report, raised no red flags for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick, says the registrar.

Dr. Ed Schollenberg was aware Dr. Kim Barker had resigned as the head of Algoma Public Health in Ontario in January 2015, after a report that the interim chief financial officer she had hired was a convicted fraudster.

He also knew about the “kerfuffle” in Nunavut in October 2018, when the government abruptly announced she was “no longer employed” by public health.

“But you know, from what we got out of all of that, and still have out of all of that, there’s nothing that says she can’t provide the service she’s been recruited to do,” said Schollenberg.

The head of the provincial regulatory body said he has “total confidence” in Barker’s medical credentials and abilities. He wouldn’t have granted her a licence to practise in New Brunswick if he didn’t, he said.

KPMG conducted a forensic audit after Barker resigned from Algoma Public Health, but the report only became public in recent days after the Supreme Court of Canada rejected her lengthy battle to keep it private.

The report suggests Barker hired the convicted fraudster —Shaun Rootenberg — to oversee the unit’s finances because she wanted to start a romantic relationship with him.

It’s unclear how much the New Brunswick government knew about Barker’s employment history before it hired her as the medical officer of health for the south, known as Region 2, which covers Sussex to St. Stephen.

I regret having hired this person, but I can’t change the past. I can only say that I will never repeat something like that again. – Kim Barker, medical officer of health, Region 2

Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane declined to comment, referring to it as a “personnel matter.”

Barker told CBC News “everyone was completely aware,” and that she was hired based on her abilities.

“I regret having hired this person, but I can’t change the past. I can only say that I will never repeat something like that again.”

Shaun Rootenberg, also known as Shaun Rothberg, pictured here in a 2017 handout image from Toronto police, was hired as Algoma Public Health’s interim chief financial officer in November 2013. (Toronto Police Service)

Barker graduated from medical school in Toronto in 1996, and has a specialty in public health and preventive medicine, according to the college’s website.

She has been licensed to practise in New Brunswick since April 2019.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you for the first time,” she told reporters on May 27, during a news conference in the midst of the measles outbreak.

According to the KPMG audit, Barker began exchanging emails with a man she initially knew as Shaun Rothberg in July 2013 and their communications became “increasingly personal.”

Barker told the auditors she was not in an intimate relationship with Rothberg at the time, but hoped one would develop.

She believed that if Rothberg was provided with employment in Sault Ste. Marie, the likelihood of a relationship between them “would increase,” according to the report.

Algoma Public Health’s former business administrator had been terminated in July 2013 for reasons not stated in the report.

In early August, Rothberg offered to introduce Barker to Ron Hulse, who ran a consulting firm.

Knew identity before hired

Algoma Public Health hired Hulse to help in the search for a new chief financial officer, plus someone to fill the job in the interim.

Rothberg was hired for the interim position in November.

Barker did not disclose the “nature of her relationship” with Rothberg to the board prior to his appointment, the report states. “Barker went on to characterize her failure to do so as a ‘complete lack of judgment.'”

Rothberg turned out to be Shaun Rootenberg, who had been convicted of fraud and served time in a federal prison.

According to the auditors, an examination of emails shows Barker was aware that Rothberg’s real name was Rootenberg as early as Oct. 8, 2013 — approximately seven weeks before he was hired.

A few months after his contract ended in the spring of 2014, Sault Ste. Marie news site Sootoday.com reported his criminal history.

Barker resigned soon after and the forensic audit was ordered.

4-year fight for report

Sootoday.com filed a freedom of information request to obtain a copy of the report, which Algoma Public Health, as well as the mayor of Sault Ste. Marie wanted released to the public. 

Barker took the matter to court, arguing the report was inaccurate and infringed upon her privacy, but the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed her final bid to appeal in December 2019.

The audit found Rootenberg did not steal any public money when he was the chief financial officer of Algoma Public Health.

Rootenberg refused to participate in the audit.

Barker was subsequently hired as Nunavut’s deputy chief medical health officer in April 2015 and was promoted to chief medical health officer in January 2016.

Her departure from that position came the same day she spoke on the government’s behalf, answering questions about legal cannabis on CBC’s morning show, Qulliq.

But a spokesperson with the Department of Health said in an emailed statement that Barker was acting on full authority as the government’s chief medical officer of health when she appeared on Qulliq, and that her departure has nothing to do with her ability as a medical authority.

Barker alleged she was fired without cause.

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