Northern Vancouver Island physicians call for resignation of region’s top doctor

Click to play video: 'Island doctors call for changes to Island Health'
Island doctors call for changes to Island Health
WATCH: Two doctors on Northern Vancouver Island are calling for changes at the top of Island Health, saying a toxic administration is making it difficult for them to keep doctors in the region. Kylie Stanton reports – Feb 6, 2023

Two Northern Vancouver Island doctors are calling for the head of Island Health to step down, saying a litany of problems have created a lack of communication and a toxic work environment that is pushing practitioners out.

On Friday Dr. Alex Nataros tweeted, calling for the resignation of the chief medical officer, Dr. Ben Williams, claiming “ongoing dereliction of duty to meet basic job responsibility to provide medical leadership for Island Health.”

“There is a systematic harassment of physicians on the North Island, and it’s led to many physicians previously having left, many physicians having to go on medical stress leave, many physicians having to just withdraw from the engagement altogether,” Nataros said.

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According to Nataros, he received a call from Williams several weeks ago. Williams said he was concerned Nataros was violating Island Health’s policy about pets in the workplace.

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“I’m actively training and paying for additional training for pet therapy for my dog. She has a pet therapy jacket, which identifies her appropriately,” he said.

“It was very intimidating to get a call out of the blue, stating that I was not being appropriate and not recognizing the value that I have brought with my dog in the workplace.”

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Nataros began working in Port Hardy last August, but come July, he will be the only emergency physician in the community.

“I’m trying to fill that gap and the result of that is persistent and continued harassment by Island Health and Dr. Ben Williams specifically,” he said.

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A recent survey by doctors of B.C. found only 40 per cent of Vancouver Island health-care workers were satisfied practicing medicine in the region — a 14-per cent drop since 2021 and the lowest in the province.

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Nataros is also not alone is calling for Williams’ resignation. Dr. Prean Armogam has practiced medicine in the region for 17 years and says he has noticed a change in the leadership over the last three years.

“We have no local leadership presence and sort of the senior leadership — also not present — don’t appear to have a skill set to listen to staff, frontline staff, ultimately for patient care patient safety,” Armogam said, adding services have become more fragmented and he has watched a mass exodus of physicians due to what he says is a lack of support.

“I think Ben Williams has certainly neglected his role. He’s done his role very well in terms of applying the staff rules and bylaws. We need a medical leader with good creative thinking and a competent toolset to see us out of a crisis.

“I support Dr. Nataros’ addresses ask regarding Ben Williams, but it’s really the entire senior leadership that user reshuffle, we need a fresh start. We need people with creative thinking.”

Armogam applauds Dr. Nataros coming forward, saying, in the past, physicians have felt stifled and prevented from speaking out for fear of being labels a “disruptive physician.”

On top of the challenge of recruiting doctors, the region has been battling sudden emergency room closures since the spring.

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In late January, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced $30 million in funding to address many issues plaguing the area’s health-care system. But some of those on the front lines aren’t confident it will change anything until the leadership does.

“Why does it take eight years for them to come up with the same thing that has been around for the last eight years?” Armogam said. “And then why is there a lack of sort of tangible deliveries on it?”

In a statement, Island Health CEO Kathy MacNeil defended Williams.

“I am grateful Dr. Williams undertakes this work with both a focus on patient safety and a commitment to work collaboratively, to support the delivery of quality care. He has my complete and continued confidence in his leadership,” the statement reads.

“If a physician has a concern, they are well aware of the mechanisms available to them to raise their concerns, including through their Medical Staff Association.”

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