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City tip line complaints included list of COVID-positive staff being sent out

The Office of the Auditor General in Ottawa saw a jump in tips to the fraud and waste hotline in 2023. (Michel Aspirot/CBC - image credit)
The Office of the Auditor General in Ottawa saw a jump in tips to the fraud and waste hotline in 2023. (Michel Aspirot/CBC - image credit)

A list of staff at an Ottawa long-term care facility who had tested positive for COVID-19 being sent to an employee email list was one of hundreds of complaints made to the city's fraud and waste hotline last year.

The anonymous tip line was first implemented nearly two decades ago to shed light on instances where city property may have been misused or employees may have broken rules.

Annual reports by the city's auditor general have detailed a growing number of complaints in recent years.

There were 282 complaints to the hotline in 2023, a number that represents a 34 per cent increase over the previous year. Most were by city employees themselves.

In recent years, complaints included an employee using a work vehicle to attend a convoy protest or falsifying documents about their vaccination status.

This year there were two investigations involving theft, embezzlement or fraud, one involving a gift card and the Manotick Business Improvement Area and another of an employee who took things from work to sell or keep.

One investigation, after a number of complaints, also focused on the Carleton Lodge care home in south Ottawa between the fall of 2021 and the following summer.

It found that COVID test list was mistakenly attached to an employee distribution email list that included management and after it was discovered, nothing was done to fix the problem.

Language complaints

The auditor general's office also said complaints made to the hotline outlined Carleton Lodge employees speaking languages other than English or French in front of other staff and residents.

The report outlined that residents and staff may feel excluded, anxious or disrespected when an employee is speaking a language they don't understand.

Barrhaven East Coun. Wilson Lo, whose ward includes the care home, acknowledged an industry-wide staff shortage means many nurses and personal support workers come from overseas to fill those jobs.

Many of their first languages aren't English or French.

"It's reasonable to expect that they can conduct the professional side of their job in English and conduct themselves in a way that might not make a co-worker feel uncomfortable."

Barrhaven East Coun. Wilson Lo sits in front of his laptop at a meeting of Ottawa's transit commission on June 29, 2023.
Barrhaven East Coun. Wilson Lo sits in front of his laptop at a meeting of Ottawa's transit commission on June 29, 2023.

Barrhaven East Coun. Wilson Lo says it's not unreasonable to expect workers in the city to speak either English or French while on the job, but that the city prides itself on its diversity, including languages. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

In a statement, Dean Lett, the city's director of long-term care said staff at the home were reminded to keep personal health information protected and make sure to report any breaches.

He also said staff at the home were reminded of the Resident's Bill of Rights and are "encouraged to communicate in English, French or any other language preferred by the resident" when providing care.

Transit complaints slowed mid-last year, but restarted

Other complaints in the report included 20 violations around the unauthorized use or misuse of city property, and another 20 of employees violating the city's laws and regulations.

One company contracted by the city had to repay more than $1,400 for non-billable hours.

On Friday, the city's auditor general outlined that there had been an inordinate number of complaints about OC Transpo "bordering on abuse" up to the day she addressed the audit committee last June.

"Unfortunately, those did recommence again a couple of weeks ago," Auditor General Nathalie Gougeon told the committee.

Given that uptick, and the sheer number of complaints to the tipline last year, the auditor general said it plans to roll out a two-year awareness campaign so employees and the public know what should be reported to the hotline — and what shouldn't.