A London, Ont., ER doctor was under the microscope for murder. The hospital didn't tell him
After more than 30 years of caring for critically ill patients in emergency and intensive care, Dr. Scott Anderson is preparing to face off against the hospital where he works in London, Ont., in a case described as "unusual" by lawyers and potentially costly for Ontario taxpayers.
Anderson has filed a $6.25-million lawsuit against the London Health Science Centre (LHSC) accusing the hospital of failing to inform him that he was under investigation for the possible murders of patients.
Anderson says he was told about it only after a seven-month probe exonerated him. He says this is contrary to hospital policy on transparency with medical staffers.
The allegations, which include defamation by the hospital, have not been tested in court.
"I had every emotion you could possibly have. I had sadness. I had dismay. I had the sense of betrayal," Anderson said in an exclusive interview with CTV News.
A new, incoming hospital official told Anderson in March that a former nurse had filed a complaint the previous year regarding his care of an elderly patient.
In Anderson's statement of claim, filed with the Ontario court and dated July 4, he says the complaint argued that his "administration of end-of-life care amounted to murder on several occasions, among other things."
The nurse originally made the complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), the statement of claim says. However, the CPSO referred the matter back to the hospital since the college can only address complaints made by patients.
The elderly patient died in 2014, two years before the federal government passed legislation allowing certain Canadians to request medical assistance in dying. Anderson's statement of claim says he "is renowned in the province for being one of few physicians in Ontario who provide MAID services to eligible Canadian adults."
His concern is that the allegation might have been a suggestion he was performing medical assistance in death before it was legal. “The last thing you want as a MAID doctor is to have unsubstantiated allegations of murder. It is damaging to your career,” said Anderson.
Anderson says he has never seen the complaint and was assured it was investigated and deemed unfounded.
He discovered that despite that, someone at the London Health Sciences Centre ordered a second investigation. The hospital had assembled a team of investigators, some he now believes were his colleagues, who over seven months reviewed some 600 patient hospital deaths. Again, he was never informed until after the investigation was completed.
The hospital's statement of defence, dated Sept. 20, also says the case search was unable to identify the person who matched the description described by the nurse. The document also says that "the investigation which was conducted completely exonerated Dr. Anderson."
Anderson says he was told that at no time did his care "fall below standards," a phrase used in the statement of defence. Anderson says he takes this to mean all of the cases investigated were his.
Yet, hospital officials have refused to give him any more information about the probe. He filed a freedom of information application with the hospital that was rejected.
"I've tried on more than 10 occasions to get a copy of the complaint to get answers as to who conducted this investigation. How was it conducted? Who was involved? And at no time have they been willing to meet with me or talk to me about this in any way," he told CTV News.
"(We) don't understand why he's been treated this way," said Andrew Graham, his lawyer. "It's unusual in my experience. He's a long-time, valuable employee of the hospital, he's always been in good standing."
Officials with the London Health Sciences Centre responded to CTV News by email, writing, "As this matter is before the courts, LHSC will not be commenting further."
In a statement of defence, filed in court, the hospital writes it "was unable to identify any patient who matched the description in the nurse's report," and denies it owed Anderson a fiduciary duty to be informed of the investigation.
"Dr. Anderson was not required to respond to any allegation as the Hospital determined that there was no merit to the allegation and no response from Dr. Anderson was required," the statement of defence says.
LHSC also denies Anderson's defamation claims, adding that he "has suffered no damages."
Anderson says he would have co-operated with any inquiry about his care of patients. But he maintains he had a right to know he was under investigation, and a right to co-operate and defend his work, given he feels his reputation is at stake.
His career may depend on the outcome of the case, which he chose to make public to let other health workers know that hospital administrators need to be held accountable when they abuse or overextend their power.
"It's a really hard time these days to be in health care ... I feel that if there was an issue with (someone's) care that it'd be addressed in a professional and respectful manner," Anderson said.
Some legal experts call the case one worth watching.
"It takes a lot of courage for physicians to go up against their hospital and sue their hospital," said Brooke Shekter, a lawyer in Oakville, Ont., who specializes in health law.
"That is why challenging LHSC is such a bold move because there is only one hospital system in London," she said, adding Anderson should have been given a chance to answer the complaint.
She says she represents other health workers who feel wronged by administrators, but who fear losing their jobs or hospital privileges if they challenge their treatment.
"As a result of that, … hospital decision-making goes completely unchecked ... and it creates this really toxic working environment," Shekter said.
The case, she added, is also a red flag for patients.
"We have to care about the way physicians are governed and treated in their public hospitals if we want to be able to go to those hospitals and have high-quality patient care," Shekter said.
London Health Sciences Centre has hired a Toronto law firm to defend the case in court, a case Anderson says could have been avoided had the centre instead openly shared share information with a physician whom its investigation deemed innocent.
The case could prove costly for taxpayers since hospitals are funded using provincial tax dollars.
"I think hospitals generally have an ethical responsibility to avoid questionable legal cases because the costs can be borne by taxpayers, but it remains to be seen exactly what that would require and it will be case-dependent," according to Maxwell Smith, a bioethicist and assistant professor in the faculty of health sciences at Western University in London.
"Unless there is reason to believe notifying a physician about a complaint made against them could jeopardize the integrity of any investigations … it is preferable to proactively and transparently communicate with physicians the existence and nature of complaints made against them," he added.
The costs of the investigation and the court case trouble Anderson, who maintains his goal of the suit is information and transparency, not money, with the damages an incentive to bring hospital officials to the table.
"I think public health-care dollars ought to be spent on patients, equipment, medicine, resources, nursing care," he said.