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CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 2006

Dr. Gabrielle Horne Files Lawsuit against Hospital

Dalhousie University’s affiliated teaching hospital deliberately used false allegations to destroy her career, cardiology professor Gabrielle Horne alleged in a lawsuit filed late last month.

Her research on the causes of heart failure, backed by a number of major grants, was brought to a halt when the chief of medicine for the Capital District Health Authority unilaterally altered her hospital privileges in October 2002, ending access to patients needed for her research.

Legislative procedures to ensure timely review of the chief of medicine’s decision failed, leaving Horne without recourse for more than four years.

In September this year, the Capital Health board found allegations that Horne’s work endangered her patients were baseless and immediately restored her privileges, yet still blamed her for her ordeal.

Horne alleges the hospital’s actions have forever tarred her reputation and ability to get her research career back on track, having lost her highly-trained lab staff, her research grants and her graduate students and post-docs.

The damages sought aren’t specified, but Horne’s lawyer, Ron Pizzo, said they could reach into the millions of dollars. Her legal costs alone are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.

Horne’s statement of claim argues that Capital Health had a duty to protect her academic freedom and reputation, but that the opposite was done.

It says the director of the heart function clinic, not named in the suit, tried to force her to make him a collaborator in her research. When she didn’t, he is alleged to have made several allegations to cardiology head Blair O’Neill in November 2001, including that Horne didn’t get along with nursing staff and didn’t follow proper research protocols.

Similar alleged harassment continued until October 2002 when the heart function clinic director is alleged to have made more allegations that Horne’s research was unsafe and she didn’t get along with her colleagues.

Following discussions with O’Neill, Capital Health’s medical chief varied Horne’s privileges under a section of the disciplinary by-laws meant to protect patients from a dangerous doctor.

In late 2005, frustrated by years of delay by Capital Health, the hospital’s district medical staff association appointed a four-member expert panel to review the allegations against Horne. The panel came to the conclusion that the allegations were without merit. Capital Health ignored their report, as it had an earlier settlement negotiated under the auspices of highly-regarded mediator Martin Teplitsky and signed by Capital Health’s CEO, Dalhousie University and Horne. The mediated settlement would have reinstated Horne’s privileges in 2003.

Although CAUT had been critical of the Dalhousie University administration’s failure to act on Horne’s behalf in the face of injustice, university president Tom Traves began to speak out in the last year and ensured Horne didn’t suffer additional penalties at the university.

At CAUT’s Council meeting in November, delegates agreed to drop their consideration of censure against Dalhousie University.

According to CAUT executive director James Turk, it is Dalhousie’s affiliated teaching hospital, Capital Health, that has caused the problems for Horne.

He noted that clinical faculty are more vulnerable than other academic staff as they come under the dual authority of the university and its affiliated health care institutions and often don’t have collective agreement protection with either institution.

“It’s no coincidence that most of our academic freedom cases currently involve clinical faculty,” Turk said.

Horne’s statement of claim contains allegations that have not been tested in court and statements of defence have not yet been filed.