Thu | Sep 16, 2021

Editorial | Call in auditor general at UHWI

Published:Friday | June 18, 2021 | 1:03 AM

IT MAY be merely coincidental that Herman Athias’ resignation as the chief information and technology officer at the University Hospital of the West West Indies (UHWI) followed immediately on this newspaper’s report on the bungled implementation of a record-keeping software at the hospital, which may have been the wrong one for the job.

Perchance the two events are related, it is our hope that Mr Athias has not been made a fall guy for the misadventure, which has now gone for more than four years after its due date, and for which the hospital and The University of the West Indies (UWI) – both of which are substantially funded by Jamaican taxpayers – is in the hock for over J$500 million.

In the circumstances, notwithstanding the funding arrangement for this project, the auditor general, Pamela Monroe Ellis, is likely to be on good legal grounds to, and should, initiate an investigation of the scheme. And while she is at it, a broad performance audit of the hospital may be in order. Indeed, the vice-chancellor of the UWI, Sir Hilary Beckles, should himself invite Mrs Monroe Ellis to conduct such a review as well as instruct Dale Webber, the principal of the university’s Mona campus, to cooperate fully with the investigation.

Meanwhile, the UHWI matter reminds of the Government’s long-overdue report on the security cock-up earlier this year on its JamCOVID portal, exposing the private COVID-19-related and other records of thousands of people who travelled, or intended to travel, to Jamaica. Our sense is that the administration hopes that this is one of those issues that simply fades away as people forget.

Not fit for purpose

With respect to the university hospital matter, the agreement it signed in 2015 with the St Lucia-registered firm, Health Administration Systems (which appears to be a subsidiary of, or is otherwise connected to, an Indian technology company, Survana Technosoft) – should have led to the digitisation of the UHWI’s records, eliminating the need for paper dockets. The Jamaican company, Advanced Integration Systems, is in charge of the implementation/integration. The system was expected to be functional within nine months.

But as The Gleaner reported on Sunday, in a 2018 review, a UHWI doctor who then had oversight of the project, complained that “the application was not fit for purpose”. A system that was expected to largely provide off-the-shelf functionality was requiring “massive customisation”. He suggested that the programme was overhyped and that there was inadequate operational support from the vendors. However, Patrick Anglin, in that report, also pointed to the poor attitude of some hospital staff, who were indifferent towards the new system, which should not be surprising if it did not work.

Nearly three years on, the Hospital Information Management System (HIMS) is merely limping along, still incomplete and with little trust from doctors, nurses and administrative staff, which raise fundamental questions of what went wrong and why.

Due diligence

Among the issues to be resolved is whether appropriate due diligence was conducted on the software before its purchase; who on UHWI staff assessed its functionality in a hospital setting; and who signed off on it as what was required for this hospital.

Indeed, we find particularly troubling Dr Anglin’s rejection as “patently untrue” the vendors’ claim that the program met international standards. That statement implies a lack of due diligence, which means that what is also to be clarified in an investigation is the procurement procedures that were used for the acquisition and why. If the program had been funded directly from the UHWI’s budget, we suspect it would have been subject to the Jamaica Government‘s procurement regime, whose default position is public tender. In this case, the purchase was by UWI, Mona.

These matters preceded Mr Athias’ tenure at the UHWI, which began in 2019. But he had at least two years to observe and make recommendations about HIMS. It would be useful to know what was his assessment, how he advised his bosses, and if these contributed to his resignation this week.

The bottom line is that half a billion dollars is a lot of money for Jamaica, for which taxpayers expect, and deserve, value. They do not appear to have had it in this case. The auditor general’s probe is necessary to determine if this claim is indeed fact, and if so, who should be held accountable.

Which brings us back to the JamCOVID portal, which was developed and managed for the Government by Amber Group. On three separate occasions within a fortnight earlier this year, TechCrunch, an American online technology magazine, discovered and reported on security lapses on the site, making people’s information vulnerable. Our Government bristled at the disclosures and threatened to prosecute people who breached the island’s cybersecurity laws by trespassing on sites – even when they are left exposed and that exposure was flagged for correction. Happily, the Government retreated from its hubris and promised a full report on what happened with the site. Up to now, notwithstanding cursory declarations that the loopholes were closed, it has failed to adequately fulfil the obligation to release a full report. Neither has it reported on its review of the security of all government websites. Jamaicans still deserve to know.