Former head of heart surgery at NS describes allegations of toxic workplace

A former chief of cardiac surgery at the Nova Scotia Health Authority says he was removed from office without explanation despite efforts to deal with a toxic work environment plagued by bad behavior, including some surgeons who allegedly use medical instruments threw.

The allegations are contained in a request from Dr. Edgar Chedrawy for a judicial review, filed with the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in May. The Nova Scotia Health Authority and Nova Scotia Attorney General are named as respondents. Chedrawy, who continues to serve as a cardiac surgeon in Halifax, wants to be reinstated as department head along with a review of the decision to remove him.

AllNovaScotia.com first reported on the filing.

According to court documents, Chedrawy was recruited back home to Nova Scotia from the University of Illinois in 2017, where he served as the chief of cardiothoracic surgery. He was named division head here in 2018 after an international search.

Doctors allegedly threw medical instruments

The documents say that reviews of the cardiac surgery department in 2010 and 2016, before his arrival, acknowledged that “there were serious issues that needed to be addressed within the department and… Chedrawy understood that he had been recruited in part to help address them.” .”

The 2016 review, according to court documents, noted that “rude and aggression are expected and tolerated: there is some evidence of bullying.” Chedrawy’s time as division chief has involved investigating and responding to various incidents, which are detailed in the documents.

They reportedly include:

  • A doctor throwing an instrument at a patient’s leg when a device was unavailable, cutting the patient. The same doctor is said to have been guilty of “profane, sarcastic and inappropriate behavior” and showed a lack of respect.

  • A doctor throws a sternal retractor at a metal bucket, causing hearing loss in a perfusionist, the surgical team member who circulates the patient’s blood during heart surgery. The same doctor is said to have beaten a resident and used verbal abuse.

  • A doctor is said to have called a colleague – a medical specialist in training – a racist name. Then she told them to go back to where they came from and made profane comments about Chedrawy.

  • A doctor reportedly refused to attempt to resolve personal dynamics with another cardiac surgeon and asked Chedrawy to remove a disciplinary letter from their personal file, which Chedrawy declined to do.

Not all doctors who want to improve their behavior

According to court documents, Chedrawy was advised by the person who previously ran the department about what she considered to be “racist and discriminatory behavior by certain doctors,” which Chedrawy reported to the department head.

The documents go on to say that a review of how the cardiac surgery program treated fellows concluded that no more fellows should be assigned to the department until the identified issues were resolved.

†[Chedrawy] was concerned that this behavior was being modeled and treated as acceptable to residents and fellows’, the documents say. He took specific steps to address and resolve these issues, with varying degrees of success. Not all doctors were willing to improve their behavior.”

Chedrawy’s request for judicial review is based on several grounds.

Court documents say he was informed that a workplace assessment would take place in 2021. He expressed concerns about how the review would be conducted and alleged conflicts of interest on the part of the two internal reviewers.

The review went ahead despite his concerns and, according to court documents, Chedrawy was not given a copy of the review, its recommendations and was not given a chance to comment.

Told to work with leadership coach

A few months after the review, Chedrawy was told that in order to maintain his position as divisional head, he would need to work with a collegiality-enhancing facilitator, a leadership coach, and three collegiality surveys.

The letter from Dr. Todd Howlett, executive medical director of the Health Authority’s Central Zone, and Dr. David Kirkpatrick, chief of surgery at the time, who advised Chedrawy on these terms, notes, “There have been some positive developments that have occurred during your tenure as division chief,” but significant issues remain in the division and escalated under his leadership.

Terminated without notice

Although Chedrawy accepted the terms of keeping his job and worked on it, two months later he was informed in a letter by the newly hired chief of surgery, Dr. Gail Darling, and the vice president of medicine, Dr. Nicole Boutilier said he was fired as division chief effective immediately and was to be paid $97,500 instead of six months’ notice.

According to court documents, Chedrawy had the support of the majority of doctors in the cardiac surgery department.

Chedrawy could not be reached for comment.

A spokesperson for Nova Scotia Health said the health authority has no comment on the application. A county spokesperson said this is a staffing issue involving the health authority and raised questions with Nova Scotia Health.

Chedrawy’s motion comes amid an external assessment of the cardiac surgery department’s workplace recently ordered by Karen Oldfield, interim CEO of Nova Scotia Health.

Oldfield told CBC she ordered the review following complaints about the division she first heard in February and subsequent information gathering.

CBC News reported this week that multiple doctors with international training say they experienced discrimination and other forms of unfair treatment during their time in Halifax as fellows or medical residents of Dalhousie University in cardiac surgery.

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