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The Northumberland Family Health Team (NFHT) and the members of its board are being sued by the recently fired Executive Director Laura Yontz for $900,000 plus costs for wrongful dismissal and other damages.  She alleges that she was terminated to prevent her from reporting fraudulent and/or illegal practices by staff members. She claims that Chair Dr. Mark Essak specifically told her not to report these matters to the board and then terminated her without notice when she persisted.  This case was first reported by Northumberland Radio 89.7 News.

Being sued are Dr. Essak, the five other members of the board and the NFHT. Ms. Yontz had only been with NFHT since Oct. 6, 2014 – she had been hired away from Port Hope Extendicare where she had had a 16 year career at a higher salary as their administrator.  At 56 years of age, Laura has had a hard time finding replacement employment.

laura yontzLaura YontzAs part of her job, she inspected the books of NFHT and found numerous cases where employees had diverted money for personal uses and broke many of the rules put in place by the Ministry of Health and Long term care.

Examples from her claim:

  • The previous Executive Director and certain senior staff would hire each other as consultants for the projects they were working on and a "consulting" invoice, often from a numbered company, would be submitted to the NFHT for payment.
  • Certain members of staff were paid for a five day work week when in fact they had only been working a three day work week.
  • A staff member had had her salary doubled in a period of about seven weeks. This would have been under the direct control of the Board Chair, Mark Essak. This increase would not have been approved by the Ministry.
  • Two large flat screen televisions were purchased by the NFHT. These large flat screen televisions were taken to the homes and used as personal property without ever having arrived at the NFHT offices.
  • Payments to staff were cleared despite the staff in question not working the dates for which the payments were made;
  • Payments were made for personal items for certain staff and delivered to their residence while being coded as NFHT property.
  • Each doctor's clinic that conducted NFHT business in its offices was allowed a certain amount of rent to be paid to them by the NFHT. The Board Chair, Dr. Mark Essak, directed Ms. Yontz to increase his own rent by approximately 400% despite the increase was meant to be 32%.

She alleges that when she tried to report all the transgressions to the board, the Board Chair, Dr. Essak:

  • Told her not to cash the cheque that a staff had returned to the NFHT to reimburse an incorrect payment and not to mention this item at a regular Board meeting;
  • Not to contact the insurer about possible loss which may have resulted in funds being recovered and returned to the MOHL TC, the ultimate funder;
  • Not to contact the Ministry concerning what appears to be a clear case of fraud happening within the office of the NFHT; and
  • Not to call for a forensic audit of the books despite ample evidence of wrongful dealings with the funds of the NFHT.

Ms. Yontz’s discovery of funds missing and misdirected obligated her not to approve the books to be sent to the auditor or to the Ministry as complete and bone fide. However the Board Chair demanded she sign the Board Compliance Attestation even though they both knew this to be incorrect.

On April 14, 2015 Ms. Yontz attended a meeting of the Board of Directors as was usual. She was prepared to and desired to report to the board on the conduct she had discovered that she believed not only contravened the permitted financial practices of the NFHT but wrongfully diverted the funds of the NFHT to certain individual staff members and to name those individuals and transactions that resulted in misappropriated funds. Dr. Essak, the Board Chair, attempted to prevent the Plaintiff from properly reporting to the Board and ordered her out of the meeting rather than accept the report for consideration.

On the same day, NFHT terminated her employment via text message. A letter sent by Dr. Essak followed on behalf of the Board advising her of her termination without cause effective immediately. She was not permitted to return to work.

So she is suing. Surprise!

The above is a summary of her Statement of Claim that was filed at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Cobourg on September 21st 2015, and which has not been proved in a court.  Once each defendant has been served with the Statement of Claim he or she will have 30 days to file a defense.

The Northumberland Family Health Team (NFHT) is a not-for-profit corporation which employs about 22 persons (nurse practitioners, registered nurses, social workers, dietitians, and other professionals) plus 21 physicians. They are currently located in Northumberland Mall and plan to move to the building to be constructed on the Hospital grounds (more here).

Update -  Dec 21, 2015

A report at Northumberland 89.7 News says:

Dr. Mark Essak and his fellow Board members on the Northumberland Family Health team have filed a defence to the law suit brought by Laura Yontz, a former Executive Director of the Health team who is claiming damages for wrongful dismissal and associated wrongs. The 15 page document filed by the Toronto law firm of Blaney McMurtry, LLP denies the allegations set out in the Yontz claim. The onus is on the plaintiff to prove her case on a balance of probabilities. There are several preliminary matters that must be concluded before the case is ready for trial. The inordinate delay in the filing of the defence had given rise to erroneous speculation that the matter had been settled.

Update - Dec 28, 2015

The Cobourg Taxpayers Association has a link to the full defence statement which refutes the Yontz claims in detail.  Worth a read.  Go here.

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