Capital Health does it again

The high cost of refusing to say ‘sorry’

June 7, 2007

The war of attrition the Capital District Healthy Authority seems so eager to wage against some of its best and brightest has now opened on yet another front with the opening salvo in another nasty, pointless — and expensive — skirmish.

Last week, Dr. Michael Goodyear, a medical oncologist and ethics researcher, filed a formal complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, alleging the CDHA discriminated against him on the basis of the “perception of a mental disability.” He filed his complaint after four-and-a-half years of unsuccessfully trying to convince the CDHA to restore his hospital privileges, which the health authority revoked on the basis of what appears to have been little more than a personality conflict with his boss.

If the outlines of Goodyear’s story sound eerily similar to the still ongoing case of Dr. Gabrielle Horne — the globally pioneering heart researcher whose multimillion dollar research program was scuttled when her hospital privileges were varied for unrelated issues of “collegiality,” and who is now suing the CDHA for what will likely be millions in damages — that’s because they are.

For a variety of reasons, Goodyear’s case has gotten less media attention. But it is no less troubling.

According to his complaint, Goodyear’s problems started in September 1999 when Dr. Leonard Reyno took over as his division head. By October 2002, their disagreements over Goodyear’s “communication… availability and judgment” had escalated to the point where the chief of medicine, Dr. Elizabeth Anne Cowden, ordered Goodyear’s hospital privileges varied and “suggested” he check himself in, at his own expense, to the Professional Renewal Center in Kansas — which deals with professionals suffering from “disruptive behaviour, career burnout and psychiatric illness” —to “undergo a ‘fitness to practise’” and

“competence assessment.”

When Goodyear refused, he says he was relieved of his responsibilities, restricted from “clinical practice, research, teaching, administrative duties and publication and presentation of my work.” At the same time, a complaint was filed against him with the College of Physicians and Surgeons — he says he was never given details of the allegations — but, according to Goodyear’s human rights complaint, Cowden claimed he was experiencing a “mental health crisis.”

The District Medical Advisory Committee spent three months investigating Cowden’s allegation and found no substance to it. Two years after that, the College of Physicians and Surgeons withdrew its complaint as well.

In his own defence, Goodyear did undergo an independent psychological assessment conducted by the chair of the province’s psychology board of examiners. According to Goodyear, the assessment showed he was “well adjusted,” “warm,” “considerate” and “caring of others and alert to their feelings.”

Dartmouth Liberal MP Michael Savage agrees. Goodyear was his late father’s oncologist when the former Nova Scotia premier — a physician himself — was undergoing cancer treatment. Goodyear, Savage says, was “very compassionate without providing false hope, very competent and responsive… He and Dad got along very well. [Goodyear] provided unvarnished factual info, which Dad craved, and yet provided a sense that there were things that could be done when that was indeed the case.”

Despite that — and despite the fact the health authority has failed for four years to show how Goodyear endangered or harmed his patients in any way (the only legal grounds for revoking his privileges) — Goodyear still doesn’t have his hospital privileges back.

Goodyear’s ordeal, in fact, continues. In 2003, the CDHA removed him from his position as the CDHA’s research ethics chair over the objections of other members of the committee and several former chairs. In December 2003, he was locked out of his office. Eventually, he was forced to declare bankruptcy.

These days, his office is a small, windowless closet of a room in a far corner of the Victoria General Hospital that the hospital only reluctantly opened up for him.

Accept the usual caveats — the CDHA hasn’t yet offered its defence, and Goodyear’s allegations haven’t been tested by formal investigation or hearing — but they more than pass the smell test, especially given what we already know about what happened in the Horne case.

In each case, the CDHA has probably spent millions on outside lawyers — the authority refuses to provide me with information on exactly how much it spent on the Horne case — simply because it refuses to acknowledge its mistakes.

Those lawyers’ dollars, it’s worth noting, are not only coming out of our tax dollars, they’re coming out of a health care budget that desperatle needs every dollar it can get for patient care.

Stephen Kimber is the Rogers Communication Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College. His column, “Kimber’s Nova Scotia,” appears in the Sunday Daily News.

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