Name: Health Resources Group. Incorporated in 1996. It is Alberta’s best-known “non-hospital surgical facility” — a private hospital no matter which way you slice it. HRG’s clinic is called Health Resource Centre. HRG has merged with, and is sometimes called, Networc Health Care Inc.
Location: Rents space in the Salvation Army Grace Hospital, one of three Calgary hospitals closed in the mid-90s. HRG’s renovations to the space created what the Canadian Medical Association Journal described as a 37-bed “positively comfy” environment with “soothing colour schemes, oak and brass trim, and carpeted floors,” turning publicly-funded infrastructure into a luxury hotel.
Well-connected interests: Dr. Stephen Miller, an HRG shareholder, heads the orthopedics department at Calgary’s largest hospital, Foothills Medical Centre. He is also HRG’s medical director and chief medical officer for private rehabilitation corporation Columbia Health Care Inc. Since its startup, HRG’s other connections have included Jim Saunders, formerly the Calgary Regional Health Authority’s chief operating officer and now HRG’s chief executive officer; the husband of a Conservative MLA.
Owners: In November 2000, private health care corporation Networc Health Care Inc. amalgamated with HRG — a move that leaves the same players at the helm. Networc was a voting HRG shareholder, and its voting shareholders in turn include HRG directors and shareholders. Dr. Miller is listed as Networc’s Chief Medical Officer. Networc Health Care also owns Columbia Health Care Inc., a private rehabilitation corporation sold when its New Mexico owners Sun Healthcare Group filed for bankruptcy protection in 1999. Columbia operates seven rehab centres in Western Canada, profiting from contracts with third-party payers such as Workers’ Compensation and private insurance, as well as out-of-country patients.
Follow the money: Private lab giant MDS, both directly and through venture capital funds it manages, invested $3 million in HRG’s start-up costs, including $2.23 million from its Canadian Medical Discoveries Fund and $279,000 from its Health Care and Biotech Venture Fund. MDS, together with its partners and subsidiaries, are key donors to the Alberta Tories. Two MDS officials have held positions on HRG’s board. HRG is connected to more than $42,000 in donations to the Alberta Tories between 1994 and 1999.
Services for sale: In 2000, HRG won a two-year contract with the Calgary Health Region worth $253,000 for a wide range of foot and ankle surgeries. The CHR can extend the contract for another year.
Dr. Miller signed the contract on the day Bill 11 became law. HRG also operates on patients referred by Workers’ Compensation, and performs plastic surgeries.
HRG’s ability to profit from public health care is set to expand exponentially. In February 2002, HRG received the go-ahead from Alberta’s College of Physicians and Surgeons for procedures requiring overnight stays and is awaiting final approval from Alberta’s health ministry. HRG’s plans will make it Alberta’s first private joint-replacement clinic, providing hip, knee, shoulder and spinal surgeries that require overnight stays.
HRG’s Dr. Miller says his first step upon approval will be to approach the Workers’ Compensation Board. He told the Edmonton Journal that contracting with health authorities could come soon after. “The region knows who we are and what we can do,” said Miller in a dramatic understatement. Miller is also targeting the armed forces, RCMP and other federal employees. Plans to turn part of the former Grace Hospital into a seniors’ complex could provide a further boost to HRG’s business.