Dr. Gabrielle Horne and the lessons not learned

Call it vindication. But — after 14 years, four premiers, three changes of government, the merging of nine regional health authorities into one and a there-must-be-an-end, 33-day trial — don’t call it victory.

Dr. Gabrielle Horne (The Coast)

Dr. Gabrielle Horne (The Coast)

On Friday in a landmark decision, a seven-member civil jury awarded Halifax cardiologist Gabrielle Horne $1.4 million in damages, her legal fees and — most important — acknowledgement she had been wronged.

When the then-Capital District Health Authority revoked her clinical privileges on October 17, 2002, it not only destroyed a “globally pioneering” heart failure research lab but it also damaged Horne’s reputation and career.

At its core, this was a case of workplace bullying at Halifax’s Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre. Dr. Ken West, the president of Horne’s medical staff association who testified at her trial, summed it up neatly: “she was a junior female investigator being bullied by older male colleagues.”

But it was worse, and more than that. Her hospital privileges were varied, without due process, by her boss, the head of the QEII’s department of medicine, who happened to be a woman.

For four years, her decision was mindlessly supported by a hospital board that hid behind lawyers to protect the institution’s reputation at the expense of the facts and of Dr. Horne — not only running up millions of dollars in legal fees in the process but also effectively continuing the bullying.

During it all, Dalhousie University, which jointly appointed Horne, and the provincial government, which oversaw Capital Health, looked the other way.

I first wrote about Dr. Horne’s case for The Coast in 2006. And I’ve been writing about it off and on ever since. At each new twist in the tale, the number of Horne’s patients who come forward to offer, unbidden, more glowing testimonials to her professionalism and compassion, is startling — and telling.

So too is the ongoing attitude of those who should have learned a lesson by now.

After Friday’s decision, the now-Nova Scotia Health Authority’s chief legal officer issued a statement: “The events discussed occurred 14 years ago. It’s not appropriate for us today to revisit the actions of previous organizations or administrators. We look forward to moving on from this matter with a continued focus on fostering an environment for leading health research and care.”

No explanation. No accountability. No apology.

Not good enough.


I first wrote about the details of the case of Dr. Horne in this 2006 article for The Coast.

Related columns from the Halifax Daily News and Metro Halifax.


  1. Ignorance of the past only begs for history to repeat itself.


  2. I not only grieve the plight of an obviously very talented scientist. I grieve for the patients who may not have timely treatment due to the irresponsible allocation of funds to keep trying to mute what has been done to Dr.Gabrielle Horne


  3. It is quite appropriate to revisit because discriminatory and pejorative behaviour is still occurring and being insulated by hospital officials.
    I am also a former employee of the Nova Scotia Health Authority with a pending human rights investigation taking place. There is much about this article that hits home for me.
    The Health Authority’s legal counsel seems to either ignore or defend inappropriate internal action. There is no timeline on doing the right thing or in accepting responsibility in order to affect change.
    I do not believe it was the amalgamation of the Health Authority but the civil jury that rightly advocated for Dr. Horne.
    The cost of not addressing core issues or taking timely responsibility, over and over, is shocking considering the Health Authority is a provincial government organization that should have monitoring in place that is neutral and unbiased. It does not seem to matter to past or current Health Authority officials that these types of cases incur debilitating effects on real people’s lives.
    The public should be aware that insidious systemic behaviour continues and is at the root of the Health Authority losing millions of dollars that should be going to the people of Nova Scotia and to promoting stronger values. This learning opportunity seems to escape officials at the Health Authority.
    Without true recognition, it will continue.
    It gives me hope that Dr. Gabrielle Horne was awarded and recognized by an independent body but it is very disheartening to know that these types of circumstances are not affecting true change within the Hospital Authority organization- to this day.


  4. I have personally worked with dr Horne
    She’s an amazing professional., my heart goes out to her in these times
    Take care gabby
    Ardis smith rn


  5. Your perseverance is remarkable in following up on this case. Thanks for showing us how courage and ethics combine to make good journalism.


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