Saint John’s medical officer showed ‘complete lack of judgment’ in previous post, audit finds

The Saint John region’s medical officer of health hired a convicted fraudster to oversee finances when she was the head of Algoma Public Health because she wanted to start a romantic relationship with him, a newly released audit report suggests.

Dr. Kim Barker resigned from Algoma Public Health, which is based in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., in January 2015, after Shaun Rootenberg’s criminal history was exposed.

KPMG conducted a forensic audit at that time, but the report only became public in recent days after the Supreme Court of Canada rejected her lengthy battle to keep it private.

Shortly after she left Algoma, Barker went on to work in public health in Nunavut, but in October 2018, the government announced she was “no longer employed.” No reasons for her abrupt departure were provided, due to confidentiality.

It’s unclear if Barker disclosed her employment history before being hired as New Brunswick’s medical officer of health for the south, known as Region 2, which covers Sussex to St. Stephen, or if the provincial government conducted a background check.

Barker declined a request for an interview Tuesday, directing inquiries to the Department of Health.

Department spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane did not respond to a request for an interview.

Barker has been licensed to practise in New Brunswick since 2019, according to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick’s website.

“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.

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)

College registrar Dr. Ed Schollenberg did not immediately respond to a request for comment about what, if any, background checks the provincial regulatory body conducted before granting her a licence.

Barker graduated from medical school in Toronto in 1996, the college’s website indicates. It states she has a specialty in public health and preventive medicine.

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 reported his criminal history.

Barker resigned soon after and the forensic audit was ordered.

4-year fight for report 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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