(This column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner on May 8, 2017 .)
Elections offer opportunities. If you have a question, or concern, or if there is some specific issue bugging the hell out of you, the upcoming election gives you the chance to raise it, face-to-doorstep, so to speak, or email-to-email, with the candidate of your choice, and have a reasonable expectation the candidate will respond — perhaps even to the question you ask.
After the votes have been counted, you can then use that answer to hold the candidate-now-MLA to account for whatever he/she said/promised/solemnly swore to do, or not to do.
I know, I know. This is the abstract, Civics 101 version of how politics is supposed to work, and bears no relation whatsoever to Stephen McNeil’s 2013 cross-his-heart pledge to maintain the film tax credit for another five years, or Darrell Dexter’s 2009 read-his-lips commitment to no new taxes, no program cuts…
But let’s — for a brief, hopeful Monday morning moment — presume Pollyana is real.
What is the one, otherwise unlikely-to-be-the-subject-of-official-party-platforms-or-public-pronouncements issue you would like to ask your candidate to respond to?
I know what mine is.
It is the incredible ongoing, never-ending injustice one un-merged and one merged health authority — not to forget three governments of varying partisan stripes led by four different premiers — has perpetrated on one Dr. Gabrielle Horne. Horne is a Halifax cardiologist whose promising world-class research has now been derailed for nearly 15 years, thanks to a combination of professional jealousy and bureaucratic butt-covering, overlaid with a generous dollop of self-interested, expensive, billing-by-the-hour private lawyers.
I first wrote about what was the then-four-year-old Horne case in a 2006 feature for The Coast (here). In the decade since, I’ve written columns about it for the no-longer Halifax Daily News (here and here and here), for Metro (here and here), for Atlantic Business Magazine (here), and now, of course, for the Halifax Examiner.
If you’re interested in the story in all its full all-its-gory-un-glory, you can, read all those “here” and “here” links. But for now, let me give you the Cliff’s Notes version.
In 2002, Gabrielle Horne was a rising star cardiologist whose innovative, make-a-difference-to-patients research into heart failure was not only described by her employers at Dalhousie University and the Capital District Health Authority as “world class” but was also attracting millions of dollars in international research funding to Nova Scotia.
Perhaps as a result, Horne’s superior at the health authority asked her to add one of the cardiology department’s other senior male physicians “prominently” to her research team — even though he’d had nothing to do with her work.
And that was how it began.
On October 17, 2002, the CDHA unilaterally suspended Horne’s hospital privileges, a draconian, emergency action usually only taken to protect the safety of patients and the public — certainly never the case here — and which had the ultimate, unintended effect of shuttering Horne’s research lab and drying up its funding.
Let me now turn my megaphone over to four prominent Halifax physicians: Kenneth West, Michael Gross, Ross Leighton and John Sullivan. Each of them is a former president of the 700-strong Queen Elizabeth II Medical Staff Association. Late last month, they issued a rare joint open letter in which they noted clearly that no independent review of the case in the past 15 years had “found any wrongdoing on the part of Dr. Horne.” She had been — their words — “unjustly punished because she refused to be bullied by a male supervisor into crediting him as a research collaborator and co-author.”
Consider the number and range of specific independent reviews of the case over the past 13 years that they cite in their letter:
- In 2003, an outside mediator recommended a settlement that was agreed to and signed by Dr. Horne and the CEO of the Capital Health Authority. The authority subsequently refused to honour the settlement agreement.
- In 2005, the QEII’s Medical Staff Association appointed a four-member panel of senior physicians to review the allegations against Dr. Horne. The panel reported that the claims against her had no merit.
- In 2006, the Capital Health board of directors reinstated Dr. Horne’s hospital privileges, as a result of a review process launched in 2002 that under hospital bylaws should have taken no longer than 30 days to conclude.
- In February 2016, the Canadian Association of University Teachers released the results of an independent investigation into the handling of the Horne matter, and said that medical faculty at Dalhousie University did not enjoy adequate protections and rights.
- In June 2016, a jury awarded a $1.4-million settlement for damages due to loss of reputation and career opportunities.
Incredibly, the Nova Scotia Health Authority announced last fall it plans to appeal the jury’s clear repudiation of its clearly wrong and wrong-headed initial 2002 decision, and not to mention its every vindictive, self-serving, butt-covering decision since.
The health authority has spent countless millions of dollars — it won’t tell us the actual count — on private lawyers to defend the indefensible. That’s money that could have been spent on underfunded patient care. Besides the money it’s spent, there’s the funding it’s lost — millions of dollars that didn’t come to Horne’s pioneering research lab because the authority effectively shut it down.
The only higher authority that can stop the health authority’s appeal madness is the provincial government to which it reports.
That’s why I emailed the three provincial parties last week. I wanted each party to state its position on whether it would order the authority to abandon the appeal and allow the jury’s justice to take its course.
I got responses from both the Liberals (sort of) and the NDP.
“Thank you for writing to us,” responded the auto-responder connected to the Liberal Party’s email address. “This note is confirmation that your email has been received. We will direct your message to the appropriate individual.” (One lives in hope, of course, but I should point out Stephen McNeil’s spokesperson told the CBC last October the premier “can’t intervene because of ‘the ongoing legal process.’”)
An NDP spokesperson meanwhile emailed to say that the party believes the “health authority should abandon its appeal. It’s time to move on and let Dr. Horne continue with her life.”
So far, I haven’t had a response from the Tories, but will certainly post their response here if there is one.
Have a question of your own? Now’s the time to ask. And to save the answer for later.
Since this column was published, the Progressive Conservatives responded to my questions. I asked each party to state on the record: “Would your party instruct the health authority to
- abandon its appeal,
- address the underlying problems that led the jury to award her $1.4-million, and
- redirect the financial resources such an appeal requires to health care?”
Email response from Progressive Conservative Party (May 9)
- abandon its appeal – Yes
- address the underlying problems that led the jury to award her $1.4-million, and – Yes
- redirect the financial resources such an appeal requires to health care? – Yes
The Tories noted that MLA Tim Houston had been vocal about the case and included an exchange with the health minister in the legislature:
HEALTH & WELLNESS: HORNE CASE – COSTS
- TIM HOUSTON«» : Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health and Wellness. Given that a previous government disclosed that over $1 million had been spent on legal bills by 2007 and given that the public has an ongoing right to know how public funds are spent, I would like to ask the minister what the sum total is for taxpayer money disbursed to outside law firms in the course of the Dr. Gabrielle Horne matter, during his tenure as minister. I would like him to include legal fees for secretaries, lawyers, meetings, court costs, preparation, and all related matters. Can the minister tell us, what is the sum total of legal fees that this government has spent during just his tenure as minister?
- HON. LEO GLAVINE « » : Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is talking about an issue that now goes back 14 years with the former Capital Health district that continues to move forward with the NSHA and is currently under appeal before the courts.
- HOUSTON«» : I thought the minister might be reluctant to talk about how much has been spent in legal fees. I’m sure the amount of money is absolutely staggering, the fact that the courts have decided what happened here now – and this government is continuing with an appeal. I know in the corporate world a lot of times when you’re looking at a legal situation, the parties will look at what the probability is of success. I know three or four instances right away that make me wonder if this government’s determination is the probability of the individual citizen on the other side kind of giving up and throwing in the towel because everyone wants a fiscally responsible government. Nobody wants a callous government and when we see these situations – appeals, appeals, and appeals. I would like to ask the minister, by what date in the future can we reasonably expect this government to disclose in the interests of transparency how much money they’ve spent on this case?
- GLAVINE«» : I certainly believe that any time taxpayer money goes for legal fees, that it should be disclosed to the public; it will be done in due course. The member should realize, however, she’s not an employee of the Department of Health and Wellness. She is an employee originally of the Capital Health district, now with the Nova Scotia Health Authority. It is their prerogative in terms of continuing to reach a settlement. I know a settlement will be reached, but that’s for the courts to determine.
Which leaves the Liberals: Where does the Liberal Party formally stand on these questions. Are there any Liberals out there who can/will answer my questions?