North Island doctor’s ER suspension due to patient complaint, not public comments: Island Health

North Island doctor's ER suspension due to patient complaint, not public comments: Island Health

Days after a North Island doctor came forward alleging Island Health restricted his emergency powers because he was calling for the resignation of the chief medical officer, Island Health has released a statement that the move was due to a patient complaint.

Dr. Alex Nataros is a physician on the North Island, and one of three currently working in the emergency room. Earlier this week, he called for the resignation of Dr. Ben Williams, Island Health’s chief medical officer.

After Nataros called for Williams’ resignation, he told media that his emergency privileges were suspended by Williams, which he says was retaliation for his calls for resignation.

In a public statement, Williams refutes this claim, saying the suspension came after a patient complaint on Jan. 30.

“On Tuesday, Jan. 31, I received a written letter of concern from other members of the care team at Port Hardy hospital that also indicated concerns about Dr. Nataros’ ability to safely care for patients,” Williams said in an interview with CHEK News. “When I reviewed all of that material together I made a determination that Dr. Nataros was not safe to practice in the emergency room.”

Williams says an investigation was conducted, including speaking with physicians in relevant specialties and reviewing the patient’s medical record. On Feb. 1, Williams met with Nataros to provide him an opportunity to share his side of the story.

Then on Feb. 2, as Williams was writing a letter to Nataros outlining that his privileges will be restricted, Williams became aware of Nataros’ public calls for his resignation.

“This did not affect my decision-making. My decision had already been made, and I was working on communicating it to Dr. Nataros,” Williams said in the statement.

On top of alleging his powers were restricted due to his calls for Williams’ resignation, Nataros said he was restricted for bringing a therapy dog to work with him, which Williams denied, though he will not say what the patient complaint was.

“I’m not going to get into the patient details. Port Hardy’s a small town if I get far down that road, the patient is going to be identified in 22 seconds and patients have a right to privacy,” Williams said. “The issue of his dog had nothing to do with his restriction of privileges. Dr. Nataros’ privileges were restricted because I have significant concerns about patient safety and … that has to be our number one priority.”

Williams says Nataros had written a letter to the local medical health officer about his dog and asked that the concerns be forwarded to Williams.

“I wouldn’t normally be involved in an issue like that, because Dr. Nataros asked the concern be forwarded to me, I called him up,” Williams said.

“And I introduced myself and Dr. Nataros indicated he did not have time to speak with me and we agreed that I would set an appointment with him, which I did, and when I set that appointment with him, I also reminded him that until we spoke, he had to follow the rules.”

Williams says the restrictions on Nataros are in place until an investigation can be complete and that Nataros has the ability to appeal the decision.

Though Nataros was told of the restriction on Feb. 2, he didn’t mention it during an interview with CHEK News on Feb. 7 where he called for Williams resignation.

Nataros said at the time he raised concerns Island Health was not adequately responding to the health-care crisis on the North Island, adding that Williams had the power to suspend him. He did not tell CHEK News he was currently restricted from practicing as an emergency physician.

CHEK News has reached out to Nataros for another interview Thursday, which he declined, saying he would be holding a news conference on Friday, Feb. 10 instead.

This is not the first time Nataros has butted heads with higher-ups in health authorities.

The McGill Daily reported in 2013 Nataros was on a forced leave of absence after in November 2012 a senior doctor made “significant life-threatening medical errors” on a patient he was also part of the care team for.

Nataros says he spoke up about the errors, and was put on a leave of absence in retaliation.

-With files from CHEK’s April Lawrence and Keith Vass

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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