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RHA takes lessons from court ruling

By: Grant Burr

Posted: 08/28/2018 11:15 AM

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Southern Health maintains that recent court action between itself and a contract physician based in Winkler is outside the norm, and not reflective of its experience with most physicians in the region.

But Denis Fortier, vice-president of medical services for Southern Health, acknowledges that a Court of Queen’s Bench ruling last month has made it clear to him that more formalized procedures need to be established when contract issues arise between the health authority and physicians.

Fortier was at the centre of the legal matter, which revolved around a question of whether he took proper action in accepting a resignation from orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Fawzi Mazek.

The July 17 judgment detailed how Mazek had faced discipline action, which he had sought to appeal, before being told he would be required to accept a demotion in order to continue surgical work.

Fortier sent Mazek an email on Oct. 27, 2017 advising him of the health authority’s requirements. Later that day, Mazek responded through email by tendering his resignation. However, early the following morning, the surgeon sent another email retracting his resignation. On Nov. 2, 2017, Fortier accepted the resignation, while acknowledging that the further email retracting the resignation had been received.

The judicial ruling found the manner in which the resignation was accepted was not in keeping with labour law rules or the health authority’s own bylaws, which required 90 days notice to be given for resignations or a shorter time period consented to by all parties.

"By accepting a resignation that was not in effect, it is clear that the respondent went well beyond acceptable conduct for public institutions," said Judge Sheldon Lanchbery in his ruling.

The court decision, which quashed the resignation, reverts both sides back to situation that existed prior to their October exchange.

Lanchbery suggested, among other options, that the two parties would be free to negotiate a settlement.

"As suggested by the respondent, there is no doubt that the relationship between the applicant and the respondent has been strained to the breaking point," he noted.

Fortier told The Carillon that this situation required significant consultation given the "very unique circumstance."

He said the ruling "weighed against" the health authority as a result of its slow response to the claims.

"Much of that was very much due to a lot of thought, a lot of discussion and stakeholder consultations," he said.

Physicians are contracted by the health authority but bill Manitoba Health directly for services. Contracts are managed through Fortier’s office, separate from regular human resource activities.

"What this taught us is what we were doing right and what we could do better," said Fortier, who noted that work to improve policies in regards to contract employees managed by his office was already underway, prior to this court issue arising.

"It is clear to me, we need to do things formally, in a written format."

Asked about the impact a case like this could have on the health authority’s reputation and ability to recruit physicians, Fortier remained positive.

"If you spoke to most physicians in Southern Health…we have a pretty good working relationship."

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