The Public Procurement Authority (AMP) estimates that three private health recruitment agencies engaged in a collusion scheme as part of a mammoth tender launched by the Legault government last year.
Published at 1:10 am. Updated at 5:00 am.
What there is to know
Following a tender, Quebec awarded a major contract to private recruitment agencies in the health sector last spring.
Some agencies were targeted in June amid allegations of “significant irregularities” in the tender process.
After an audit, the Public Procurement Authority remains convinced that three agencies colluded, according to a document obtained by La Presse.
Quebec's public procurement regulator presents its conclusions in a document it sent to the owner of one of the three agencies, Elliot Kasser, to inform him that his company Confort Élite Laval “fails to meet the proposed integrity requirements.” in the law on contracts of public bodies. The AMP indicates that it “could revoke its authorization to enter into contracts with a public entity”, as we can read in this document dated October 24, signed by the Director of Corporate Integrity, Louis X. Lavoie.
The AMP concludes that during the tender, the three companies “participated in a collusion scheme aimed at presenting strategically set prices and exploiting the resources of certain companies by 'promoting another, lower bidder'. “
Still according to this “withdrawal notice” obtained by La Presse, the AMP explains that at the end of May it “began an integrity review to confirm allegations of collusion regarding” M’s company. Kasser and “two other bidders, namely 24/7 Health Care Expertise and 9159-2634.”
La Presse revealed in June that these companies were the subject of allegations of “serious irregularities” related to the large tender for the Government Acquisition Center, which was awarded to agencies to meet labor needs. Work in the health network (see capsule).
The AMP's conclusions have not been reviewed by the courts.
The owners of 24/7 Health Care Expertise, Dany Côté, and 9159-2634 Québec Inc., Jill Eusanio, strenuously deny engaging in any collusion. “We have given all the answers to the questions posed to us by the authorities and will do so before the Supreme Court, since the same allegations were also made before this court,” said the management of 24/7 Healthcare Expertise in an email. Email La Presse.
“We have always acted in accordance with the law and regret that these unfounded allegations cast a shadow on the professionalism and commitment of our employees,” the statement continued.
The AMP document reveals that at the time of the tender, Mr. Kasser was negotiating with Dany Côté to sell his agency to Groupe Santé Halsa, a holding company managed by Dany Côté and Jill Eusanio that monitors 24/7 healthcare expertise and 9159-2634 Quebec Inc.
Mr. Kasser claims that it was not he who set the prices at which his own company bid in the government's tender, but Dany Côté, who filled out the bid with the codes for Mr. Kasser's access to the government's electronic system called Confort Élite Laval.
Dany Côté would have explained the strategy to Mr. Kasser as follows: “You bid low, you will be the “victim bet,” I will bid higher and Jill [Eusanio, propriétaire de 9159-2634 Québec inc.] will be in the middle,” summarizes the AMP in its letter.
Specifically, as part of the tender, each participating agency had to offer an hourly rate for different job categories. The agency with the lowest hourly rate was awarded first place in the government's tender list, and more expensive agencies took the next ranks. Any company that charged an hourly rate more than twice the cheapest company was automatically excluded from the market in accordance with the specific rules of this tender. Jill Eusanio told La Presse in June that many of the agencies that gain a place in the market then “rent” employees among themselves and share the income when they don't have the resources to meet the demand.
“Dany explains it to me [Confort Élite Laval] Essentially, it was a sacrificial bid designed to set the maximum price and any bidders who offered prices above that price [plafond] will be excluded from the tender,” Mr. Kasser wrote in an affidavit he filed with the Supreme Court as part of a civil lawsuit by rival agencies seeking to have the three companies “removed from the tender list.” They accuse collusion. In this statement, Mr. Kasser comes to the table and admits to collusion.
Jill Eusanio strongly disputes this version of the facts, which she calls “ridiculous.” “Elliot Kasser had never conducted a tender before. Since it is a very complicated process, Dany supported him in the presence of Elliot. The two submitted the tender, but Dany didn't know the prices [d’Elliot Kasser]Just like he didn’t know my own company’s prices,” assures Ms. Eusanio.
According to her, the rival employment agencies, which filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court to exclude the three companies from the arbitration award, “paid Elliot to provide this affidavit.”
“It is clear that he had an advantage from the plaintiffs in making this statement under oath,” she added.
For its part, 24/7 Health Care Expertise reiterates that “the court can evaluate the statements of Mr. Kasser, who acknowledges under oath that he was informed of his responsibility to select and present the prices corresponding to his offer.” »
Mr. Kasser declined to comment on the matter via email.
Example of a submitted tariff
Agence 9272 Québec Inc. (Comfort Elite Laval)
- Property of Elliot Kasser
- Submitted hourly rate for a nurse: $69.75*
Agence 9159 Quebec Inc.
- Property of Jill Eusanio
- Submitted hourly rate for a nurse: $114.75*
- Property of Dany Côté
- Submitted hourly rate for a nurse: $138.47*
* Example from a comparison prepared by the Public Procurement Authority to show that the three agencies “presented prices that follow strategic differences”. According to the rules of the tender, any agency that submitted a price twice as high as the lowest bidder was excluded. Agency 9272 Québec Inc was the lowest bidder. The price presented by the agency 24/7 Healthcare is “twice that of the agency 9272 Québec Inc. minus $1.53,” just under the cap. The agency 9159 Quebec Inc “is positioned at an average price”.
In the front row, with only one nurse
At the end of the tender, Mr. Kasser's company was positioned “in 1st place among service providers in Quebec for jobs related to care”, underlines the letter from the AMP, which concludes that the prices of the three companies “follow” . “Strategic gaps” for different types of employment.
Several healthcare facilities therefore began contacting Mr. Kasser's agency to recruit their nursing staff.
The businessman then expressed “very concern” as he actually only had one nurse in his agency, compared to 350 beneficiary nurses.
“Dany knows full well that I don’t have the resources to accept execution requests, and he responds to me in English: “We understand.” [“on s’en occupe”] “, affirms Mr. Kasser in his affidavit.
However, according to Ms Eusanio, the tender rules did not require participants to have the necessary staff to respond to demand. “I am bidding on specific locations to expand. We have the right to do so. Elliot was keen to enter the nursing field aggressively and expand,” she adds.
As a result, relations between Elliot Kasser, Dany Côté and Jill Eusanio began to become more strained, the documents show.
On June 8, 2023, the same day that La Presse published an article alleging “serious irregularities” in the tender, “Elliot Kasser confirms that Dany Côté calls him and asks him to provide all the emails exchanged between them emails, a request repeated by Jill Eusanio during a meeting on June 20, 2023,” we read in the AMP letter.
Jill Eusanio disputes this version of the facts. She claims Elliot Kasser was “panicked” because he received nearly 1,000 emails from health care facilities asking him to provide nurses he didn't have.
“Our policy is to always respond to emails. We told him that he could just delete those query emails and that we just wouldn't respond to them,” she says.
Ms. Eusanio, who is a lawyer, assures that she would never have asked anyone to “delete emails or evidence.” “It’s insulting! », she reacts.
Treaties are still in force
The three agencies concerned continue to benefit from public contracts and therefore provide workers for the health network. So far, the AMP has not included any of the agencies in its blacklist, i.e. the register of companies that are not eligible for public contracts. It gives each company affected by a revocation a period of at least 10 days to comment in writing or submit other documents.
” In the event of [de ce] The file is always analyzed by the AMP, respecting the principles of procedural fairness to which the AMP as a supervisory authority is subject. Given the ongoing analysis, the AMP must maintain the confidentiality of the file,” said its communications advisor Stéphane Hawey. He did not want to explain in more detail whether Confort Élite and 24/7 Healthcare had also received a cancellation notice. And he refused to comment on the AMP's conclusions in the October 24 document.
One of the plaintiffs in the Superior Court dispute, the owner of the agency Progressive Services Placements en santé santé, Patrice Lapointe, believes that Elliot Kasser's affidavit “confirms beyond a doubt” his suspicions.
“We have an admission from a person who acted directly as an accomplice […] to circumvent tendering rules. And it’s supported by a lot of documentation,” he says.
Who will incriminate themselves by saying something they did not do? The other people who benefit from the fruits of these actions will certainly deny this, and so we are not surprised that they deny it.
Patrice Lapointe, owner of progressive services agency Healthcare Placements
According to him, it is “completely false” to claim that the plaintiffs “bought” Mr. Kasser’s testimony.
The civil lawsuit is also directed against the Government Acquisition Center, which Mr. Lapointe accuses of laxity in monitoring its tenders. He recalled that the minister responsible for the public procurement law is the former prosecutor of the Charbonneau Commission, Sonia LeBel, president of the Ministry of Finance.
“By not acting on this, the government is behaving in a way to condone them, even though it knows these things, and that is what we regret,” he says. -hey.
Patrice Lapointe wants the AMP to take “concrete action” against the agencies it targets in its October 24 communication. “Because the passage of time allows these companies, with the government’s toleration, no more and no less, to benefit from the fruits of their labor,” he says.
Patrice Lapointe is also president of the largest association of private placement agencies in the health sector, Private Companies of Nursing Personnel of Quebec (EPPSQ). This association fired two of its directors last year, including Dany Côté, following allegations of collusion against them.
Lapointe said the government should better monitor the agencies instead of halting use of their services by the end of 2026.
A mammoth tender
The Government Acquisition Center's tender, launched on December 19, 2022 and awarded to around 100 agencies last spring, is unprecedented in its scope. The aim is to meet the estimated need of more than eight million working hours per year in the health network, especially for nurses and nursing staff. This equates to more than 4,500 full-time employees over the course of a year. This contract is currently executing and is renewable every six months until spring 2025. Another tender was recently launched by the Government Acquisition Center to potentially take over the use of agencies in the health network between the end of this year and the end of 2026, depending on the region. It was recently suspended due to new complaints from authorities about its conditions.