Tag Archives: hospital

‘Shock and disbelief’ in Hawkesbury, Ont., after doctor charged with murder, but locals have faith in hospital

As Susan Conway waited for her daughter to be treated at Hawkesbury and District General Hospital, she expressed more concern about safety over the recent COVID-19 outbreaks than news that a doctor has been charged with first-degree murder.

But while the arrest this week of Dr. Brian Nadler won’t deter Conway or her family from using the hospital, she also told CBC News on Saturday that the murder charge revelation has certainly rocked the small community of Hawkesbury, which is located between Ottawa and Montreal, and the surrounding area.

“The community is learning about this, and everyone is in shock and disbelief,” said Conway, who worked 15 years as an OPP dispatcher. “You don’t think about this [happening] in this close-knit town.

“Just horrible, just horrible. And I feel for the family of this poor soul who has been taken.”

WATCH | Hawkesbury residents react to doctor’s murder charge:

Residents say the town is small and most people know everyone so the news comes as a shock. 0:38

Residents of the town, which has a population of about 10,000, say they’re stunned by the arrest and word that Ontario Provincial Police are still investigating multiple “suspicious deaths” at the hospital.

It’s kind of like a cultural shock to hear these things happen here, too.– Elian Renaud, Hawkesbury resident

But most of those interviewed by CBC News also said they’ll continue to use the hospital — a bilingual, 100-bed facility with a range of programs and services from its main campus in Hawkesbury, and two satellite centres in Clarence-Rockland and Casselman.

Nadler, a specialist in internal medicine, was arrested Thursday evening. The 35-year-old, who lives in Dollard-Des-Ormeaux, Que., appeared in court on Friday and was charged with one count of first-degree murder. As of early Sunday, police hadn’t provided details about the deceased person or how many deaths they’re investigating.

“Its complete crazy, for a small town,” said resident Suzie Lalonde. “Everybody talking about it.”

Elian Renaud said these are the kind of stories you hear coming out of big cities like Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto. 

“You’re from a small town, everyone here knows each other and nothing ever happens in this town, crazy like that,” he said. “It’s kind of like a cultural shock to hear these things happen here, too.”

2 COVID-19 outbreaks

The murder case is another black mark this month for the hospital, which was also hit by two COVID-19 outbreaks.

Provincial police were called to Hawkesbury and District General Hospital on Thursday. Dr. Brian Nadler, 35, was arrested and charged with murder the next day. (Joe Tunney/CBC)

Earlier this week, the hospital confirmed 16 patients and five staff had tested positive for COVID-19, and five deaths have been linked to the virus.

Conway, who has lived in the area all her life, said the redevelopment of the hospital and how it’s been “built up all brand new,” along with the addition of more specialists, have been “wonderful for the whole community.”

But now, local officials are being forced to focus on the arrest of one of its doctors and assuage fears.

On Friday, Hawkesbury Mayor Paula Assaly asked people to remain calm and not be afraid to seek care at the hospital.

The next day, OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson told CBC News that, for the people of Hawkesbury, “this is a traumatic experience for everyone.”

WATCH | OPP spokesperson speaks on how the murder investigation is affecting families:

OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson answers questions about investigation into suspicious deaths at Hawkesbury and District General Hospital. 0:37

Retiree Ana Lecuyer had recently been transferred to the Hawkesbury hospital for her three-times-a-week dialysis treatment, a welcome development that meant she no longer had to make the hour-plus trek to Ottawa.

She has nothing but praise for the facility, but the murder charge has left her shaken. 

I’m stressed out. It bothers me a lot.– Ana Lecuyer, on learning about police investigation

“I didn’t want to come back to the hospital,” she said. “I’m stressed out. It bothers me a lot.”

Carole Gocmanac, however, says she has complete confidence in the safety of her former mother-in-law, who is 99 and currently in the Hawkesbury hospital. 

“Her family’s always there,” said Gocmanac, who praised the hospital, and its staff and cleanliness.

Guylaine Lafrance also supports the hospital, but is concerned over its due diligence in checking the work history of doctors. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

Guylaine Lafrance also expressed support for the hospital, but raised concerns over its due diligence in checking the work history, or “the priors,” of doctors. 

During Nadler’s residency at the University of Saskatchewan’s medical school from July 2014 to September 2018, he faced two unprofessional conduct charges, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan has said.

Documents show one charge was for allegedly calling a female colleague a “bitch” after an argument and telling someone else he “felt like slapping” that colleague. Another charge involved patient record-keeping. But the college didn’t pursue the charges after Nadler apologized and took a couple of courses.

Nadler, who attended universities in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and was licensed in February 2020 to practise medicine in Ontario, is set to make his next court appearance in April. (Professional Association of Resident Physicians of Alberta)

Chris Bennett, who also was a patient at the Hawkesbury hospital, suggested it’s too early to determine whether officials there should have done a more thorough background check on the doctor.

“You can maybe understand the need for doctors,” he said. “They’re not going to turn away anybody if it’s something that was minor there.”

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CBC | Health News

Doctor charged with murder after multiple deaths at Hawkesbury, Ont., hospital

A doctor has been charged with first-degree murder as police investigate multiple suspicious deaths at the eastern Ontario hospital where he works, CBC News has learned.

Ontario Provincial Police were called to the Hawkesbury and District General Hospital, which is between Ottawa and Montreal, on Thursday evening, police said in a news release.

At a court appearance on Friday, Brian Nadler, 35, who lives in the western Montreal suburb of Dollard-Des-Ormeaux, was charged with one count of first-degree murder.

“Dr. Nadler maintains his innocence and the charges will be rigorously defended,” Ottawa defence lawyer Alan Brass told CBC News.

Nadler, photographed here in a thumbnail on the Alberta Medical Association’s website for a 2013 article, is scheduled to be in court on April 6. (Alberta Medical Association)

His next court appearance is scheduled for April 6.

Police didn’t say how long the investigation has been going on or how many deaths are being investigated. Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner is involved, it confirmed in an email.

“At this point in time, while we don’t know exactly how big this investigation will be, we are looking at other suspicious deaths that have occurred recently at the Hawkesbury hospital,” said OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson.

“Whether it proves that they are indeed something criminal or not, we will have to wait and see.”

He encouraged anyone with information to contact the local detachment.

“We promise we’ll conduct a complete and thorough investigation that you deserve to make sure that you in the Hawkesbury area and everyone else gets the answers,” Dickson said.

Police were called to the hospital, which is between Ottawa and Montreal, on Thursday evening, and cruisers were still there into Friday morning. (Denis Babin/Radio-Canada)

The hospital said in a statement that all patient services are being maintained and all appointments are being kept.

“We want to reassure our patients, their families and the entire community that the hospital campus is a safe place,” it said in its message released in French.

The hospital said it is working with police and is in touch with the families that have been affected. It’s also offering counselling and other services to its staff.

The hospital has also been dealing with two active COVID-19 outbreaks.


Doctor has Saskatchewan ties

Nadler has been licensed in Ontario since Feb. 4, 2020. He graduated from Montreal’s McGill University in 2010.

He was a resident at the University of Saskatchewan’s medical school from July 2014 to September 2018, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan told CBC in an email.

During that time, he faced two unprofessional conduct charges, the college said.

Documents show one charge was for allegedly calling a female colleague a “bitch” after an argument and telling someone else he “felt like slapping” that colleague. Another charge involved patient record-keeping.

The incidents linked to both charges allegedly occurred the same day in August 2014.

The college said he apologized and took a pair of courses about ethics and record-keeping. It did not proceed any further with the charges.

WATCH | Hawkesbury mayor urges calm: 

Paula Assaly, mayor of Hawkesbury, says the Hawkesbury and District General Hospital remains open as provincial police investigate several suspicious deaths there. Police have charged a doctor with one count of first-degree murder. 0:30

The Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, which regulates and investigates doctors, said in a statement it will immediately look into “these extraordinarily disturbing allegations.”

Mayor Paula Assaly asked people to remain calm and not be afraid of seeking care at Hawkesbury and District General Hospital.

She also said she didn’t know the accused.

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CBC | Health News

Thousands of Toronto hospital staff haven’t got their COVID-19 shots, memo reveals

Thousands of staff at a Toronto hospital network have still not been vaccinated against COVID-19, prompting an internal email from its president, which has been obtained by CBC News, urging them to get immunized.

Roughly 4,000 employees of University Health Network (UHN) had not registered for their shots by Monday, according to the email sent that day by UHN president and CEO Dr. Kevin Smith.

“While our overall rate of uptake is very good, there are areas and programs where vaccination remains below 50 per cent of people,” Smith wrote.

“We must change this immediately.”

Smith also said he’s worried the hospital network’s supply of vaccines will be greatly reduced in the days ahead as Ontario “expands its list of priorities.”

The plea was made to staff at some of the highest risk for encountering the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the workplace, according to UHN spokesperson Gillian Howard, including those working in the emergency department, intensive care units, inpatient units and COVID-19 units.

Since the email was sent out, Howard said, around 1,000 more UHN workers had registered for their vaccinations, bringing the total to just over 18,000 people who will be vaccinated.

The network has set up a phone line and “vaccine ambassadors” to answer questions from staff, she said.

It was not immediately clear why some employees were slow to register.  

UHN includes multiple hospitals, including Toronto General Hospital, Toronto Western Hospital and Princess Margaret Cancer Hospital.

Early access

It’s not clear how many staff at other health-care networks and hospitals in the Toronto area have been vaccinated or signed up for their shots.

Women’s College Hospital, a separate facility from UHN, told CBC News around 664 of some 929 eligible staff members, about 71 per cent, have been vaccinated so far.

Toronto General Hospital is one of several sites that belongs to the network. (Sue Reid/CBC)

“However, this number is constantly changing as staff numbers fluctuate and we have many who are awaiting appointments in the coming weeks,” said spokesperson Jen Brailsford in an email. 

“This is also likely an underestimate as these numbers are based on self-reporting to occupational health.”

Toronto-area hospital sites had early access to the province’s vaccination rollout, with thousands of doses given to front-line workers and other staff in recent months.

Despite that, hospital outbreaks have continued. UHN alone is currently reporting three, affecting a handful of staff and patients. 

CBC News has also previously reported on how an estimated one-third of long-term care workers — who have been eligible since December — have not yet gotten their shots. 

A memo from the Ontario Ministry of Long Term Care dated March 8 revealed an estimated 67 per cent of staff in nursing homes across the province have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to over 95 per cent of residents.

UHN’s Dr. Susy Hota says the lack of vaccine uptake during the pandemic’s third wave is disappointing. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

According to public health ethics researcher Alison Thompson, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, hesitancy among health-care workers can lead to “tricky” ethical issues in the workplace, particularly in a hospital setting.

“It basically boils down to a matter of protecting patients and their right to having a safe space for care, and their colleagues being protected … versus their individual charter right to not have to be subjected to some kind of medical intervention against their will and consent,” she said.

‘Not a good track record’ 

Dr. Susy Hota, medical director of infection prevention and control at UHN, said the lack of vaccine uptake during the pandemic’s third wave is disappointing.

But she stressed that while these are medical professionals, they’re also dealing with the vaccine hesitancy that’s increasingly common among the general population.

“My hospital is huge. We’re like a community in ourselves, like a little village or town,” she said. 

“And there’s a diversity of different roles that people play here. And people come from different backgrounds, and different cultures and have had different past experiences.”

Hota says, from an infection control perspective, figuring out how to combat this hesitancy among health-care workers can be difficult.

“We haven’t been successful in mandating vaccinations in the past; there’s not a good track record,” she continued.

Could mandatory masks or other personal protective gear for unvaccinated workers be an option? It’s not that simple, Hota says.

For one thing, most infections in hospitals are thought to occur when workers aren’t conducting patient care and no longer wearing masks; like chatting in a break room. 

“Masking versus vaccination was tried for influenza, and that didn’t succeed,” Hota added.

Thompson agrees. If each individual employer tries to implement that kind of policy, it’s much less likely to be successful, she said.

“It’s much more effective, probably, if the provincial government were to mandate that vaccines have to be administered for health-care workers, with legitimate exemptions,” she said.

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CBC | Health News

Prince Philip leaves hospital after treatment

Prince Philip left a London hospital on Tuesday after being treated for an infection and undergoing a heart procedure.

Philip, 99, the husband of Queen Elizabeth, had been hospitalized since Feb. 16 after being admitted to the private King Edward VII’s Hospital in London, where he was treated for an infection.

He was later transferred to a specialized cardiac care hospital, St. Bartholomew’s, for a short stay, before returning to King Edward VII’s.

Photographers standing outside the door of the private hospital captured his departure. Buckingham Palace has not yet commented on the matter.

Philip’s illness is not believed to be related to the coronavirus. Both Philip and Elizabeth received COVID-19 vaccinations in January and chose to publicize the matter to encourage others to also get the vaccine.

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CBC | World News

Prince Philip transferred to different London hospital for infection treatment

Britain’s Prince Philip, the 99-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth, was transferred to a different hospital in central London on Monday to have tests for a pre-existing heart condition, as well as to receive treatment for an infection.

Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was admitted to London’s private King Edward VII’s Hospital two weeks ago for treatment for an unspecified infection that is not related to COVID-19.

On Monday, Buckingham Palace said he was moved to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, which is a centre of excellence for cardiac care, for further treatment and observation.

“The Duke remains comfortable and is responding to treatment but is expected to remain in hospital until at least the end of the week,” the palace said in a statement.

Photographers and TV crews at the King Edward hospital had earlier seen a patient being moved into an ambulance, shielded from watching media outside by staff with umbrellas and police, although there was no confirmation this was the prince.

Meanwhile, the 94-year-old Queen has remained at her Windsor Castle home to the west of London, where the couple have been staying during the coronavirus lockdown, and last week continued to carry out her official duties, albeit by video.

They have both received their first dose of the COVID vaccine, and the Duke’s illness is not related to the virus.

Philip has required hospital treatment a number of times in the last decade for a recurrence of a bladder infection and around Christmas 2011, he had an operation to clear a blocked artery in his heart after being rushed to hospital suffering from chest pains.

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CBC | World News

She was in agony since age 13. Many didn’t believe her. Then a B.C. hospital diagnosed her with endometriosis

Kim will never forget the moment the specialist touched her arm and believed her.

She had been living with excruciating pain for more than half her life, yet, she says, a long list of doctors had either misdiagnosed or dismissed her condition.

It was only when she was treated at a special unit of B.C. Women’s Hospital in 2017 that she felt understood.

“For the first time someone from the medical community was telling me: ‘Not only do I believe you but I also have successfully treated other patients. Let’s give it a try and if it doesn’t work, I will not abandon you,'” she said.

Kim, 34, has endometriosis, a condition that is still widely unknown even though it affects one in 10 women around the world and more than a million in Canada, according to advocacy group EndoAct

Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus implants in the pelvic cavity outside the uterus to form lesions, cysts and other growths, according to Endometriosis Network Canada. This can cause pain, internal scarring, infertility and other medical complications.

Each case is different. There is no cure. Those who have it need to learn to live with it. The pain may briefly lessen, but it is only a matter of time before it comes back with a vengeance.

‘There are a lot of unanswered questions’

Kim — CBC is not using her real name — agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity, because she tries to hide her condition whenever possible. She feels like her condition already takes up too much space in her life.

”It feels like someone is stabbing you in your vagina with a knife, while there is another knife moving through your uterus and ovaries,” Kim said, adding the pain then moves to her hips and can extend all the way down to her ankles, preventing her from walking. 

WATCH | Journalist and poet Danielle d’Entremont describes the pain of endometriosis:

Ever wonder what endometriosis can feel like? Watch this video by journalist and poet Danielle d’Entremont. 1:59

Much about the condition is still unknown.

“It is complex because there are a lot of unanswered questions. We do not completely understand how endometriosis starts,” said Dr. Catherine Allaire, medical director of the Centre for Pelvic Pain and Endometriosis at B.C. Women’s Hospital in Vancouver, where Kim was diagnosed after many years of searching.

Dr. Catherine Allaire, medical director of the centre for pelvic pain and endometriosis at B.C. Women’s Hospital in Vancouver, says medical experts still don’t entirely understand the condition. (Radio-Canada/Camille Vernet)

Allaire’s centre is one of the few in Canada that takes an interdisciplinary approach to the condition. Patients here can see not only a surgeon but a fertility specialist, a nurse and physiotherapist to help deal with chronic pain, and a psychologist to address mental health, among others. 

The waiting list for treatment is about six months once a patient gets a referral. But getting that referral can take a much longer time, such are the misconceptions around endometriosis. Kim says it took her seven years.

More support, funding and research is needed into the condition and those who suffer from it, experts and advocates say.

In the past 20 years, only $ 7 million has been spent on research into endometriosis in Canada, Allaire said. Diabetes, another chronic disease, received 150 times more in public money.

She says that’s because endometriosis doesn’t kill — and because it doesn’t affect men. With a bitter laugh, Allaire said she’s pretty sure a cure would have been found 50 years ago if endometriosis affected men.

One patient, identified by CBC only as Kim, says she waited seven years for an appointment but is grateful for the validation she felt when someone listened and diagnosed her. (Illustration by Émilie Robert/Radio-Canada)

Pushing for a plan

EndoAct is now bringing together people living with endometriosis and professionals in the medical community in order to get governments to move forward on support and research. 

“There’s a need to advance our understanding about basically everything,” says Kate Wahl, the volunteer executive director of EndoAct Canada and a PhD student at the University of British Columbia.

“You’ve got the cause of the condition, non-invasive methods for diagnosis, personalized treatment, patient-centred care … so many things that would benefit from further investigation.”

EndoAct’s ultimate goal is to have a national action plan like the one that exists in Australia — a three-pillar strategy that focuses on increased education, improved clinical management and care, and research. 

Asked if a national action plan for endometriosis was in the works in Canada, a Ministry of Health spokesperson replied that the federal government is funding nine research projects on the condition to further understanding, diagnosis and treatment. 

”Women’s health is a top priority, and we are committed to improving health care for women, girls, and transgender individuals,” the spokesperson said.   

‘They don’t believe you. They don’t listen to you’

In Kim’s Vancouver apartment, painkillers are strategically placed by the entrance, in the living room, in the bathroom and on her bedside table. She needs to access them quickly when a bout of crippling pain occurs. 

Her couch is close to the heating pad, towels and castor oil she uses to wrap herself in to calm the pain. She makes sure her fridge and freezer are stocked with a week’s worth of food, just in case.

“When I leave my house I can forget my cellphone — but my medication? No. I never leave my house without my painkillers,” she said.

Kim can never leave the home without painkillers and leaves them strategically throughout her apartment in case the crippling pain of endometriosis strikes. (Submitted by Kim)

Kim says the first three times she had her period, when she was 13, she ended up in hospital from pain so severe it caused her to vomit and faint. 

Yet for years she thought the pain related to her period was normal. She says she saw doctor after doctor who told her so. They never mentioned endometriosis. 

“They don’t believe you. They don’t listen to you. They don’t do followups. They do not take you seriously,” she said.

She tried several treatments, from birth-control pills and hormones to ever-stronger painkillers. She says one gynecologist even advised her to have a baby, as that could reduce the pain. 

“Really? What do I do with the baby after?” she recalls asking him.

Kim found some comfort in support groups for people with endometriosis. She says she noticed a common theme when she was meeting with her “endo sisters”: they were all, at some point, not believed.

She thinks her condition would have been easier psychologically had she not had to fight against a health-care system that didn’t appear to recognize her condition. Falling into deep depression, she even started to doubt herself. 

Kim’s coping kit for endometriosis includes a heating pad, towels and castor oil. (Submitted by Kim)

So when a diagnosis of endometriosis was confirmed after she opted to have surgery at B.C. Women’s Hospital, she was tremendously relieved. 

“To have that diagnosis, like a paper confirming something that nobody sees, that changed a lot for me,” she said.

“I have my certificate. I am not crazy.”

‘Periods should never prevent you from functioning’

The centre for pelvic pain and endometriosis is now trying to catch cases of endometriosis early, so that girls who have abnormal period pain can consult a doctor to get help and, hopefully, avoid the downward spiral that leads toward chronic pain.

A pilot project in a New Westminster, B.C., school — currently on hold because of the pandemic — is teaching students about endometriosis, while a social media campaign is scheduled to be launched this spring to teach girls about what constitutes a normal period. 

“What I usually say is that periods should never prevent you from functioning,” Allaire said. 

“You may have to take an analgesic like ibuprofen, but then you should be able to go to school and do your activities. You should not have to plan your life around your period. When it interferes with your life and you have to miss school and work when you have your cycle, that is not normal.”

Women in endometriosis support groups oftentimes find they are not the only sufferer who has had their claims to pain dismissed. (Illustration by Émilie Robert/Radio-Canada)

Allaire has met many young women whose lives are completely dictated by endometriosis. They had to miss classes and their grades suffered; they couldn’t choose the career they wanted. Some had pain during sex, others had fertility problems, others had chronic pain.

Around 60 per cent of the patients at the Vancouver clinic suffer from depression and anxiety, Allaire said. 

The centre has been able to help about four out of every five of its patients, she said. 

“They do better, have less anxiety and depression. The symptoms are better. They are still there, but the women have a better quality of life.”

For many, however, the only hope for respite from the pain comes from menopause — as the majority of women with endometriosis are shown to experience fewer symptoms afterward.

The surgery Kim underwent to diagnose her condition also attempted to alleviate her pain by removing some endometrial tissue. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. In fact, she says, it made it worse, causing her to fall into the deepest depression of her life. 

But still, she says, she doesn’t regret the surgery because she needed the validation of the diagnosis. 

Now, a few years later, she has learned to live with the pain. Part of that involves a healthy work-life balance, with regular sleep — pain permitting.

Her story is far from unique. But Allaire is determined to make sure more people don’t suffer like Kim has.

”Those life experiences are not acceptable. We need to do something to change that,” Allaire said.

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CBC | Health News

Video captures patient crawling out exit after hospital dismisses pleas for help

David Pontone’s voice still shakes as he recalls having to crawl out of Toronto’s Humber River Hospital on his hands and knees. 

“The pain was unbearable,” said Pontone. “To be able to walk properly was impossible.”

It happened on April 18, 2018 but involved a lengthy battle for his family to obtain video footage of the event. 

The 45-year-old had gone to emergency, complaining of excruciating pain in his legs. 

Pontone also told medical staff he took medication for bipolar affective disorder — a mental illness that causes severe depression and episodes of mania — but that he’d been stable for seven years. He says that disclosure affected his treatment.

“They thought I was faking it because I was bipolar,” Pontone told Go Public. “There are no words to describe what I went through that night.”

One of Canada’s leading psychiatric experts says overlooking serious physical health issues in people who struggle with mental illness is a widespread problem — and that it can severely shorten their lifespans.

“We are failing this population miserably,” said Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos, psychiatrist and physician-in-chief at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital. 

WATCH | Video shows man crawling from hospital after calls for help dismissed:

CBC News has obtained surveillance video of a man forced to crawl away from a Toronto-area hospital after being refused treatment. The video has raised questions about how people with mental health issues are treated when they need medical help. 2:01

“They go in for a broken leg and get sent to psychiatry to check their head.”

Pontone says he hopes sharing his story will prevent others from experiencing an ordeal like his. 

“I was mistreated. Misjudged. It should never be repeated, with any person,” he said.

When Pontone arrived at emergency he was seen by a doctor who ordered an MRI but also referred him to an on-call psychiatrist after learning about his mental illness. 

Pontone reacts to seeing closed circuit video from the hospital of his ordeal. (Mike Cole/CBC)

In medical records obtained by Go Public, the psychiatrist noted that “anxiety” seemed to be Pontone’s most dominant symptom — despite Pontone having said he was in a great deal of pain and had been suffering from increasing leg pain for a month.

Another note says the reason for Pontone’s visit is “bipolar” — not his inability to walk.

When the MRI didn’t find anything unusual, the psychiatrist discharged Pontone.

“As soon as they got the results … they took off the blankets and started saying, ‘Come on, get up! You’re fine, there’s nothing wrong with you!'” said Pontone.

‘Totally helpless’

Video cameras at the exit captured Pontone as he was ordered to leave. The footage shows Pontone lying on the hallway floor, struggling to stand. 

As he gets to his hands and knees and crawls toward the exit, a nurse walks next to him, escorting him out. Passersby stop to look at the spectacle, but the nurse encourages Pontone to keep going.

Pontone is seen lying on his back near a hospital exit, unable to walk due to excruciating leg pain. (Humber River Hospital)

“The nurse kept saying, ‘You’re a big boy! You’re strong! Come on, big boy, stand up!'” said Pontone.

“I’ve always been a gentleman, but I was angry. I felt totally helpless.” 

It took Pontone about 20 minutes to reach the exit. A security guard later helped him to a waiting taxi.

He says the doctors had made him think his pain was “all in his head,” so a few days later, he made his way to CAMH, where a psychiatrist immediately determined that his suffering had nothing to do with his mental health. 

An ambulance took him to Toronto Western Hospital in downtown Toronto, where a neurologist diagnosed Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. 

Five weeks later, the family met with Humber management. They hadn’t seen the video yet, but chief nursing executive Vanessa Burkoski had screened it and told them she was disturbed by what she saw. 

Lucia Pontone says she was in disbelief when she saw the footage of her son crawling out of Humber River Hospital. (Mike Cole/CBC)

She apologized, and told the family they could have the video once people’s faces had been blurred for privacy. 

In a follow-up meeting two months later, the family viewed the video for the first time.

“They let him go, like a dog, outside,” said Pontone’s mother, Lucia. “Nobody should be treated like that.”

“It’s hard to understand how the hospital thought this was OK,” said Pontone’s sister Laura. “It was humiliating. It was not OK.”

Pontone wanted a copy of the video, but in spite of Burkoski’s earlier assurances, the hospital now said it couldn’t hand the footage over, in case Pontone unblurred the faces of other people. 

The hospital took the matter to Ontario’s Privacy Commissioner, stating it didn’t feel comfortable giving Pontone the video and that a cybersecurity expert would have to be hired for about ten hours to use multi-layered obscuring technology, so Pontone couldn’t unblur the faces later.

Humber River Hospital fired the nurse who watched Pontone crawl out, but it won’t say whether any doctors who saw him were disciplined. (CBC)

It also said Pontone would have to pay the cost and sign an agreement, promising not to share the video.

The Pontones met with Toronto personal injury lawyer Harrison Cooper, who offered to work pro bono after hearing about his ordeal.

“In Canada we pride ourselves on evolving to understand mental illness,” said Cooper. “And we don’t want incidents like this — where someone who has a mental illness isn’t treated the same way someone without mental illness is treated.”

The fight took two years to resolve. The privacy commissioner ruled Pontone could have the footage if basic blurring was done, stating that Pontone had shown no indication he wanted to reveal other people’s faces. 

The hospital paid for the blurring and shared the footage.

Hospital ‘deeply troubled’

Go Public requested an interview with a spokesperson for Humber River Hospital, which was declined. 

In a statement spokesperson Joe Gorman said the hospital was “deeply troubled” by Pontone’s experience and that the staff involved “were dealt with accordingly.”

“Every patient at Humber River Hospital deserves compassionate, professional and respectful care from our staff,” Gorman wrote. 

Go Public has learned that the nurse who escorted Pontone out of the hospital was fired. Gorman wouldn’t say whether any of the doctors were disciplined. 

‘Diagnostic overshadowing’

Stergiopoulos was not involved when Pontone visited CAMH. But she says it’s so common for health-care professionals to blame mental illness for people’s physical health concerns that there’s a term for it — “diagnostic overshadowing.”

She recalls, several decades ago, “having to take a patient of mine with serious mental illness to the oncologist who had refused to treat her just because she had a mental illness.” 

“It was through advocacy that I managed to get her into treatment and she was treated successfully,” she said. “And to see that persist so many years later, it’s really heartbreaking. I think we can do better and I think we should do better.” 

Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos says more training is needed for health-care professionals so patients with mental illnesses are treated with respect. (Jon Castell/CBC)

A 2019 Lancet Psychiatry Commission reviewed the findings of almost 100 systemic reviews that examined the presence of medical conditions among people worldwide with mental illness. It found that people with serious mental illness have a life expectancy that’s up to 25 years shorter than the general population.

“The statistics are indeed shocking,” said Stergiopoulos. “And what is most shocking is that they’re persisting despite us knowing about these issues for many years now.”

She says several factors can be behind the shortened life expectancy for people with mental health issues — such as a sedentary lifestyle or a lack of disease prevention services — but a key reason is stigma and discrimination by health-care workers. 

At the root of the problem, says Stergiopoulos, health-care professionals see physical and mental health as separate.

“This is flawed and we need to do a better job at seeing people as human beings.”

Pontone spent almost four months undergoing intensive rehabilitation, but considers himself lucky to be able to walk again — Guillain-Barre Syndrome can worsen rapidly and attack the organs. It can also lead to full-body paralysis and possibly death.

His mother hopes that speaking out will benefit other people with mental illness who need help with a physical problem.

“I want the hospital to change the way they look at mental health,” she says. “So that this doesn’t happen again.”

Pontone is seen on his hands and knees, while passersby stop beside him. (Humber River Hospital)

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Hospital CEO, Ontario COVID-19 advisory team member vacationed in Dominican Republic amid pandemic

A member of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table has ended a vacation that started in mid-December and included a trip to the Dominican Republic.

The group consists of scientific experts and health system leaders who evaluate and report on emerging evidence relevant to the pandemic, to inform Ontario’s response.

Dr. Tom Stewart is listed as being a member of the Command Table, which Premier Doug Ford regularly brings up in his media briefings.

He is also the CEO of St. Joseph’s Health System and Niagara Health System.

CBC News has reached out to the Ministry of Health for comment.

Patrick Moore, the senior public affairs specialist at St. Joe’s, told CBC News via email, Dr. Tom Stewart was on approved vacation from Friday, Dec. 18 until Tuesday. 

“I regret this non-essential travel and I’m sorry,” read a quote attributed to Stewart. “Everyone should be avoiding non-essential travel now, including me.”

“As a health system leader, my actions in no way reflect the tireless dedication and commitment of the staff at St. Joseph’s Health System, who continue to live the legacy of our organization every day.”

WATCH | Provincial ministers resign following holiday travel abroad

January 4, 2021 – The Power Panel on politicians across the country under fire following holiday travel abroad. Plus, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and former health minister Jane Philpott on the province’s vaccine rollout. 1:38:39

It’s unclear who approved the vacation and why Stewart was allowed to leave the country. It’s also unclear how many of his vacation days were spent in the Dominican Republic and if he has returned to Canada.

Moore said the CEO will isolate at home for two weeks. He’s been CEO since Aug. 1, 2018.

St. Joe’s includes six different member organizations with multiple sites including: St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, St. Mary’s General Hospital in Kitchener, St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Guelph, St. Joseph’s Home Care, St. Joseph’s Lifecare Centre in Brantford and St. Joseph’s Villa in Dundas.

St. Joseph’s Villa has had a COVID-19 outbreak since Nov. 20. It has seen 55 infections and eight deaths. There was a facility-wide outbreak at the Greater Niagara General Hospital after more than 100 people tested positive for COVID-19. The St. Catharines General site also has an outbreak.

Stewart’s vacation follows a number of politicians, including Hamilton Conservative MP David Sweet, who were vacationing abroad while Ontario entered a province-wide lockdown and as infections and deaths persist during the pandemic. 

News of Stewart’s vacation also comes as Hamilton and Niagara reported a combined 289 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday.

Unions disappointed by CEO’s tropical vacation

Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE, said he was “disappointed” to hear about the vacation.

“People in a position of leadership need to show leadership,” he said in a phone interview late Tuesday.

“You would hope someone in a senior position in a major hospital system would get that it’s important to not only respect health orders but to be seen to be respecting them because you would think you would have a much more profound understanding of why those orders were in place.”

Morgan Hoffarth, president of Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, said Stewart’s choice was “irresponsible.”

“We have been working tirelessly day in and day out. I work at a nursing home in an outbreak, so for front-line health-care workers to be at work every single day and not able to take a day off, and to have leaders that are travelling internationally or abroad for pleasure is not something I think people will respond favourably to,” In a phone call late Tuesday,

Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, a union which represents more than 60,000 front-line health-care workers in Ontario said “There cannot be one set of rules for hospital CEOs making over half-a-million dollars a year and a different set of rules for frontline workers, like PSWs, who are still waiting for the temporary wage increase promised to them by the Premier last October.” 

None of the union leaders called for Stewart’s resignation.

“I think that’s something he needs to reflect on … I’m not a big fan of making an example out of people who fail,” Hurley said.

“This is an example of a significant portion of Ontario society that still doesn’t get we’re in a terrible pandemic and can’t be travelling as we always did much as we would like to.”

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Inspector saw Hamilton hospital staff breaking COVID-19 rules

An inspector from Ontario’s Ministry of Labour warned staff at Hamilton General Hospital about not following COVID-19 protocols after they didn’t physically distance in the hospital cafeteria and were in “close, face-to-face contact,” according to a staff memo obtained by CBC News.

The ministry confirmed it also issued Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), the organization which runs the hospital, an order and is currently investigating.

It would not reveal why it issued the order. But the hospital network says the order is unrelated to staff breaching COVID-19 rules and is instead “related to mask labelling and communication with joint health and safety committees at our site. Something already resolved.”

Veronica Magee, an HHS spokesperson, confirmed via email on Friday that the inspector “observed some of our staff who were sitting too closely together.”

“The inspector addressed the group [and] said they could be subjected to fines in the future if the behaviour was seen again, and that HHS had communicated the need to abide by masking/distancing rules on many occasions.”

‘Staffing crises’

The staff memo says non-compliance is mainly occurring among staff, physicians and residents, with people socializing, sitting too close together and not wearing masks properly.

HHS also said in its communication to employees that, in many cases, their lack of masking and distancing is causing “staffing crises” among critical teams.

Magee confirmed the memo, saying “we do believe that in some cases, that non-compliance has resulted in staffing issues on some units.”

Despite the concerns, part of the internal memo says most staff are following the rules.

Rob MacIsaac, CEO and president of Hamilton Health Sciences, said staff are following rules and not getting each other sick during a COVID-19 media briefing on Friday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

“Because distancing and masking rules were followed, there was no impact on coworkers or on the specific departments’ ability to keep functioning,” Magee wrote.

HHS president and CEO Rob MacIsaac also emphasized, during a Friday media briefing, that “staff are not putting each other at risk because they’re following the rules.”

74 staff in self-isolation

Magee also confirmed 74 staff members and physicians are in self-isolation due to a “combination of reasons.”

“Not all of them have COVID-19 but are isolating in accordance with public health requirements,” she wrote.

This comes as HHS deals with a pair of outbreaks in its Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre. Three patients and two staff members have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. More test results are pending.

In total, HHS has 29 COVID-19 patients in hospital, five of whom are in intensive care, MacIsaac says.

In the Friday media briefing, he said the hospital network won’t be able to manage a significant second wave of COVID-19 without scaling back services.

“We are preparing for some policy changes … we’ll be increasing testing for our patients starting Monday, people who are going to have procedures or surgeries. We’re also introducing some additional restrictions to visiting,” he said.

“Our health-care system is facing some very difficult choices.”

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Health officials warn of increasing strain on B.C. hospital system due to COVID-19

The latest:

Health officials in British Columbia are warning of increasing strain on the health-care system as COVID-19 hospitalizations hit 209 — the highest they’ve been in the province since the global pandemic began. 

The province reported 762 new cases of COVID-19 and 10 additional deaths on Wednesday, with the majority of the cases concentrated in the densely populated Lower Mainland.

“This second surge is putting a strain on our health-care system, our workplaces and us all,” said a statement from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix. 

With case numbers on the rise in B.C. and across much of the country, Premier John Horgan on Wednesday called on Ottawa to work with provinces to discourage non-essential inter-provincial travel.

“We need a pan-Canadian approach to travel,” Horgan said. “That is, the people of Quebec and Ontario and Manitoba need to know that they should stay in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba until we get to a place where we can start distributing a vaccine across the country.”

In neighbouring Alberta, the chief medical officer of health warned on Wednesday that if the province doesn’t change its current COVID-19 trajectory the “implications are grim.”

The province reported 730 new cases and 11 additional deaths on Wednesday. Hospitalizations stood at 287, with 57 in intensive care. 

“This is deadly serious. I have asked for kindness but I also ask for firmness,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said. “The need to control our spread and protect our health system is why I ask everyone, anywhere in the province, to abide by all public health measures.”

What’s happening across Canada

Canada’s COVID-19 case count — as of early Thursday morning — stood at 311,110, with 51,603 of those considered active cases. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 11,186.

In Saskatchewan, health officials reported one additional death and 132 more COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the number of active cases in the province to 2,099.

The province recently stepped up its public health regulations, making masks mandatory in indoor public spaces and limiting the number of people allowed at private indoor gatherings to five. 

WATCH | Suffering through a COVID-19 lockdown in long-term care:

Months of isolation in her Saskatchewan long-term care facility brought Chelsea Dreher to the brink of suicide. As the province restricts care home visitors again, she shares her story with CBC News. 2:02

Manitoba’s top doctor said Wednesday it’s a “very daunting time” in the province as health officials announced 11 additional deaths and 400 more cases of COVID-19. Hospitalizations in the province hit 249, with 40 in intensive care.

Dr. Brent Roussin said in recent days contract tracers have dealt with hundreds of cases that don’t have a known source of exposure to the novel coronavirus.

In Nunavut, health officials reported 10 additional cases on Wednesday, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 70.

“This is it, folks — it’s time to take a stand and fight against COVID-19,” Premier Joe Savikataaq said as he provided an update on the first day of a two-week lockdown.

WATCH: Concerns about health-care access as Nunavut enters COVID-19 lockdown:

Nunavut has begun a two-week lockdown, after COVID-19 cases more than doubled this week. There are fears the virus will overwhelm the territory’s fragile health-care system. 2:03

There was one new case reported in Yukon on Wednesday and no new cases reported in the Northwest Territories.

In hard-hit Ontario, health officials reported 1,210 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, with 361 new cases in Peel Region, 346 in Toronto and 143 in York Region.

As of Wednesday, hospitalizations stood at 535, with 127 in intensive care.

Premier Doug Ford on Wednesday warned that some of the province’s “red” zones could be facing another lockdown.

Quebec on Wednesday reported 1,179 new cases of COVID-19 and 35 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including eight that occurred in the past 24 hours.

Health officials said hospitalizations increased by 14, to 652, and 100 people were in intensive care, the same number as the prior day.

In Atlantic Canada, there were nine new cases of COVID-19 reported in New Brunswick, with five of the new cases in the Moncton area. 

There were three new cases reported in Nova Scotia and two new cases reported in Newfoundland and Labrador. In Prince Edward Island, which has just three active cases, there were no new cases reported.

What’s happening around the world

WATCH | Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine heads into approval phase:

Pfizer is preparing to formally ask for emergency use authorization for its vaccine in the U.S., after new data showed it’s safe and 95 per cent effective. The vaccine’s approval in Canada could come within the next couple of months. 4:04

From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 10:10 a.m. ET

As of early Thursday morning, there were more than 56.3 million reported cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 36.2 million of those cases listed as recovered, according to a COVID-19 tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.3 million.

A day after an update from Pfizer about its potential COVID-19 vaccine, AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s potential COVID-19 vaccine produced a strong immune response in older adults, data published on Thursday showed, with researchers expecting to release late-stage trial results by Christmas.

In the Americas, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday  — a reminder that the nation’s strained testing system remains unable to keep pace with the virus.

The delays are happening as the country braces for winter weather, flu season and holiday travel, all of which are expected to amplify a U.S. outbreak that has already swelled past 11.5 million cases and 250,000 deaths.

Conditions inside the nation’s hospitals are deteriorating by the day as the coronavirus rages across the U.S. at an unrelenting pace.

“We are depressed, disheartened and tired to the bone,” said Alison Johnson, director of critical care at Johnson City Medical Center in Tennessee, noting that she drives to and from work some days in tears.

The number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 in the U.S. has doubled in the past month and set new records every day this week. As of Tuesday, nearly 77,000 were hospitalized with the virus.

The out-of-control surge is leading governors and mayors across the U.S. to grudgingly issue mask mandates, limit the size of private and public gatherings ahead of Thanksgiving, ban indoor restaurant dining, close gyms or restrict the hours and capacity of bars, stores and other businesses.

New York City’s school system — the nation’s largest, with more than one million students — suspended in-person classes Wednesday amid a mounting infection rate, a painful setback in a corner of the country that suffered mightily in the spring but had seemingly beaten back the virus months ago.

Texas is rushing thousands of additional medical staff to overworked hospitals as the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients statewide accelerates toward 8,000 for the first time since a deadly summer outbreak.

Meanwhile, in Uruguay, a relatively coronavirus-free zone in hard-hit Latin America, health officials are starting to see a worrying rise in cases.

The African continent has surpassed two million confirmed cases as the top public health official warned Thursday that “we are inevitably edging toward a second wave” of infections.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the 54-nation continent had crossed the milestone. Africa has seen more than 48,000 deaths from COVID-19. Its infections and deaths make up less than four per cent of the global total.

In Europe, Russia on Thursday surpassed two million cases after reporting an additional 23,610 infections and 463 deaths related to COVID-19, both record daily rises.

WATCH | Inside a Moscow COVID-19 ward:

A well-equipped, high-tech COVID-19 ward set up inside a Moscow convention centre is a stark contrast to the overwhelmed hospitals elsewhere in Russia. CBC News got a first-hand look at the facility and found out what’s creating the disparity in health care. 6:34

Ukraine registered a record of 13,357 new cases in the past 24 hours, while the number of deaths also hit a new high.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the leader of the small Pacific nation of Samoa appealed for calm Thursday after the country reported its first positive test for the coronavirus, although a second test on the same patient returned a negative result.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi addressed the nation live on television and radio, urging people to remain vigilant with their virus precautions.

Samoa was among a dwindling handful of nations to have not reported a single case of the virus.

According to the Samoa Observer, the prime minister said the patient was a sailor who had been staying in a quarantine facility since flying in from New Zealand on Friday. He said the sailor returned a positive test four days after arriving, but then a second test on Thursday returned a negative result.

Tokyo raised its coronavirus alert to the highest level as the city’s daily tally of new infections rose to a record 534, while daily cases in Japan also hit a new record of 2,259.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is calling for closer international co-operation on making a vaccine for the coronavirus available.

“To beat the virus and promote the global recovery, the international community must close ranks and jointly respond to the crisis and meet the tests,” Xi said in an address delivered via video at an event at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum.

Chinese companies Sinovac and Sinopharm are in the late stages of testing vaccines, putting them among nearly a dozen companies at or near that level of development. That has introduced both commercial and political competition among countries and companies to be the first to offer a solution to the pandemic.

In the Middle East, Iran on Wednesday said it registered 13,421 new infections in 24 hours, a new daily record. The country has reported more than 800,000 cases and more than 42,000 deaths.

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