The William Osler Health System is coming under fire from a number of physicians for the decision to terminate the contract of its interim medical director of critical care amid the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Brooks Fallis told Global News in a statement Wednesday evening he was “deeply disappointed” by the organization’s decision, which he said he was told about in mid-January.
“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 wrote.
“When I met with some of the members of the senior leadership team about this, I was told I was being let go as (the) 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.
“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.”
While it wasn’t clear what specific statements, if any, might have led to the end of the contract, Fallis has been advocating for a greater response to the U.K. COVID-19 variant.
“Ireland and U.K. show us the devastation of B117. Ontario does little sequencing so we cannot wait for more info. The focus on vaccines as a short term solution is misguided because it won’t impact the epidemic for months. Our leaders should be laser-focused on containing B117,” he said in a Twitter post on Sunday.
On Jan. 17, he tweeted that there has been “no meaningful action to date” to address the variant and that “time is running out to change our trajectory.”
“The catastrophic implications of B117 is fully recognized by @celliottability (Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott) and community spread is already occurring. Once again Canada has the benefit of being warned in advance by tragedy elsewhere,” he wrote, while also calling for increased border measures, regional travel restrictions, paid sick days and increased supports.
Global News also spoke with Fallis in mid-January about the pandemic. As provincial officials raised the alarm about hospitals being inundated with patients, he too raised concerns — particularly around the issue of critical care staffing.
“In terms of my list of worries about how we’re going to care for the surge of patients … the problem will be mostly staffing-based,” he said at the time.
“If tomorrow the government came out and said, ‘We’re providing funding for another 10,000 ICU beds,’ we’d be able to staff zero of those beds so it wouldn’t really help us.
“Critical care is a highly-skilled area and you need nurses, you need physicians, you need respiratory therapists, you have dieticians, you have physiotherapists who are specialized in the area and the ability to expand that staff in a short period of time is very. very limited.”
In his statement on Wednesday, he said his only goal when 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,” Fallis wrote.
Global News contacted the William Osler Health System, which oversees Etobicoke General Hospital, Brampton Civic Hospital and the Peel Memorial Centre, to ask for comment on Fallis’s statement and allegations.
Spokesperson Donna Harris said the organization is “unable to comment on human resources (HR) matters” about identifiable employees “to respect privacy and confidentiality,” but she said the Ontario government hasn’t “given any direction or advice relating to HR matters” at any time.
“Any suggestion otherwise is absolutely false,” she said.
Harris went on to say the position was an interim one and that the organization is recruiting a doctor to fill the position on a permanent basis through a “comprehensive, open” process.
She also touted new funding from the Ontario government to create 87 additional acute care beds
Global News also contacted representatives for the Ontario government to ask about the matter, but a response wasn’t received by the time of publication.
Meanwhile, 23 William Osler Health System ICU physicians signed a letter to the organization’s management in support of Fallis while calling for an urgent meeting. They said they were “shocked and saddened” by the news to end his contract as of Monday.
“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,” the letter read in part.
“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.”
— With files from Caryn Lieberman