Toronto Star

Probe draws new counter-allegation­s

Dispute involving group of physicians, medical leader now in second year


An Alberta Health Services investigat­ion into a longrunnin­g dispute involving six physicians and conflict of interest allegation­s has been animated by new counter-accusation­s and legal warnings.

The dispute involving Dr. Daniel O’Connell of Edmonton began more than a year ago and led to the Opposition NDP calling for an independen­t investigat­ion. Alberta’s health minister has said she’s content to let the in-house probe run its course.

The allegation­s against O’Connell are contained in a complaint and revolve around his interim role as division director and Edmonton zone section chief for otolaryngo­logy-head and neck surgery. Otolaryngo­logists are specialist­s who treat problems in the ears, nose and throat, along with related problems in the head and neck. AHS is the arm’s-length, front-line provider of health services provincewi­de.

The complaint was filed Nov. 21, 2022, by five physicians who work or had worked with O’Connell. They were notified as recently as early January that the probe was continuing.

AHS documents show O’Connell’s interim tag was removed during the investigat­ion, on Dec. 1, 2023, and he was appointed for a five-year term.

The physicians who signed the complaint — Hamdy El-Hakim, Jeffrey Harris, Daniel O’Brien, Hadi Seikaly and Erin Wright — declined emailed requests for comment. O’Connell also declined to comment, referring questions to AHS.

The five say in the complaint they had concerns with O’Connell before and during his term as interim leader. They allege there were problems with his dual role as an AHS administra­tor and with the Canadian Cancer Care clinic.

The Edmonton clinic provides screening, monitoring and palliative care. O’Connell is a minority shareholde­r in the clinic.

The complainan­ts allege O’Connell may be in a conflict of interest with the clinic and an AHS triage protocol that puts patients in a central registry and distribute­s their cases to specialist­s.

Under the protocol, patients can get matched with the next available provider. In return, all specialist­s are to gain access to a fair system of referrals.

The complaint letter says Edmonton otolaryngo­logy doctors began talking in 2020 about joining the triage program and did so in 2021.

Around that time, they learned the cancer clinic had approached the program on its own and had been referring patients for months to its physicians, “thus monopolizi­ng the potential referral source to their advantage and to the detriment of the remainder of the section,” says the complaint. It says the clinic’s surgeons blamed the referrals on “administra­tive error.”

The complaint alleges O’Connell used his authority on at least two occasions to remove from the triage program physicians who were not with the clinic.

About two weeks after the complaint was filed, the five physicians sent a second one, containing new allegation­s.

In the Dec. 9, 2022, complaint, the five allege O’Connell was scheduling operating room times along with Christmas and New Year’s oncall assignment­s to the benefit of surgeons affiliated with the clinic.

The issue came to light in January news reports by The Tyee and later CTV. Citing the stories, lawyers for the clinic sent a letter on Jan. 17 to the complainan­ts challengin­g their allegation­s and warning of possible legal action.

The letter says the clinic has not exerted influence on AHS hiring, positions or operating room resources and allocation­s.

Five physicians allege were there problems with Dr. Daniel O’Connell’s dual role as an Alberta Health Services administra­tor and with the Canadian Cancer Care clinic

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