Doctor says he was relieved of certain duties at GTA hospital network after he criticized Ontario government

A doctor who works at a Greater Toronto Area hospital network says the organization is terminating his contract as interim medical director of critical care because he has spoken out about the province’s pandemic response.

In a statement obtained by CBC Toronto, Dr. Brooks Fallis, a critical care doctor, blames Ontario government influence for the decision.

“As a result of my actions, the hospital was under pressure from the provincial government, leading to concern about the possible loss of funding for the hospital,” he says in the statement.

His employer, William Osler Health System, denies the province played a role.

A spokesperson for Ontario Premier Doug Ford rejects the suggestion.

Ivana Yelich, spokesperson for the premier, said in an email on Wednesday: “We have never heard of this individual and the allegation he is making is categorically false.”

Fallis says he is “deeply disappointed” with the decision by William Osler. He says the hospital network had offered to extend his contract but that offer was rescinded earlier this month.

“It was a surprise, as the feedback I was given about my performance over the past year as interim medical director of critical care had been positive and especially because I had already received an offer to extend my contract,” Fallis’s statement reads.

“I was made aware of the reversal in their decision in mid-January. When I met with some of the members of the senior leadership team about this, I was told I was being let go as interim medical director — not because of my performance as a physician or as a hospital leader — but because of my outspoken, public statements regarding Ontario’s pandemic response.”

Fallis says he doesn’t regret speaking out and he did so to improve the response to the pandemic.

“As a physician, my greatest responsibility is to care for people. In these times of uncertainty, my only goal in speaking out is to advocate for informed decision making and a better, more transparent response to the COVID crisis. I do not regret doing that. I will continue to serve as a critical care physician at William Osler.”

Suggestion of influence ‘false,’ hospital network says

In a response on Wednesday, the William Osler Health System said it cannot comment on human resources matters about individual staff and physicians to respect privacy and confidentiality.

Donna Harris, spokesperson for the health system, said in an email to CBC Toronto on Wednesday that the position of medical director of critical care at Osler is an interim one and the hospital network has recently announced the launch of a “comprehensive, open process” to recruit a doctor for the position permanently.

“At no time has the provincial government given any direction or advice relating to HR matters at Osler. Any suggestion otherwise is absolutely false,” Harris said.  

“Osler has received significant support from the Ministry of Health in the past and within the last number of months — including a recent investment to support 87 additional beds at Osler’s acute care hospital sites.” 

Harris added: “Dr. Fallis has been an extraordinarily committed physician leader over the past year, and continues to be a critical part of our COVID-19 response efforts; we thank him for his leadership and service to Osler.

End of contract follows provincial criticism of another MD

The termination of the contract comes after the premier criticized another Toronto doctor.

On Wednesday, Ford criticized the relationship between Dr. David Fisman, a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 advisory science table, and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO).

23 ICU doctors sign letter in support of Fallis

The ICU Physician Group at William Osler Health System, meanwhile, has written a letter of concern about the decision to three members of the hospital network’s senior leadership team — Dr. Naveed Mohammad, president and CEO, chief of staff Dr. Frank Martino, and Dr. Rardi van Heest, vice-president, medical affairs, research and academics.

The letter, dated Wednesday, is signed by 23 doctors.

The letter says the group doesn’t understand and support the decision and asks three senior managers to discuss the decision with the group as soon as possible by videoconference given the limitation of the pandemic.

“The ICU physician group is shocked and saddened by this news,” the letter reads. 

“Over the past year, Dr. Fallis has been an exemplary leader, not only for the ICU but for Osler as a whole. He has taken a leading role in shaping our institutional response to the pandemic and has been a constant source of support for the ICU physicians and staff. He enacted changes to our staffing model to preserve well-being and minimize burnout during this incredibly stressful time. He has not only optimized our policies and protocols but also created new ones where guidance was lacking,” the letter continues.

According to the group, Fallis was asked to take on the position of interim medical director and division head of critical care at William Osler about a year ago, the hospital network offered to extend his position in December, but his contract is being terminated effective Feb. 1.

The hospital network has declined to confirm or dispute these dates or to confirm the exact full title of Fallis’s position.

The letter says members of the Ontario Critical Care Command Table have used his policies and protocols as examples for other hospitals to emulate. It adds that Fallis has enhanced the hospital network’s reputation and influence through such initiatives as the COVID critical care website. And it calls his contributions to Osler “extraordinary.”

“Furthermore, Dr. Fallis has been a voice of reason and an advocate for improvement in our health-care system as a whole. He has endeavoured to influence our health-care leaders to do better for our patients and our community. We are proud of the voice that he has given ICU physicians caring for the sickest patients amid the pandemic. Our institution gains strength from embracing diverse viewpoints and being open to respectful discourse,” the letter says.

“We believe that Dr. Fallis embodies Osler’s values of excellence, compassion, respect, and collaboration, and exemplifies its vision to provide patient-inspired care without boundaries.”

The letter concludes by saying the doctors look forward to a reply.

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