Staff denies queue jumping

CALGARY — Two operators of a private Calgary health centre concede they tried to end-run the booking procedures at a publicly funded cancer-screening clinic, but not to get their patients pushed to the front of the line.

CALGARY — Two operators of a private Calgary health centre concede they tried to end-run the booking procedures at a publicly funded cancer-screening clinic, but not to get their patients pushed to the front of the line.

Dr. Doug Caine and business operator Leah Tschritter-Pawluck testified Tuesday that management was so shoddy at Calgary’s Colon Cancer Screening Centre they felt they had to pull strings just to get their patients entered into the database.

“We had a problem and we were trying to find a better way to get (our patients) to be seen efficiently and be put into the system,” Caine, the lead physician at the private Helios Wellness Centre, told the public inquiry into queue-jumping in the Alberta health system.

“We had tried every other mode of communication,” added Tschritter-Pawluck.

The two were called to testify after the inquiry heard testimony last month that Dr. Ron Bridges, a high-ranking University of Calgary academic and physician, and Darlene Pontifex, the office manager at the Colon Cancer Centre, were allegedly co-opting the resources of the publicly funded facility to fast-track Helios patients.

Last month, Calgary gastroenterologist Dr. Jon Love told the inquiry he visited Helios in 2010 and Caine told him Helios was set up to reward deep-pocket donors to the University of Calgary.

On Tuesday, Caine testified he did not recall saying that to Love, but noted that Helios itself — a non-profit organization — was a big contributor to the University of Calgary.

Helios is located two floors down from the CCSC in a building at the Foothills Medical Centre.

Caine and Tschritter-Pawluck said Helios opened just before the CCSC did in January 2008 and provides executive-class private health service, including yoga, diet advice and other amenities. Patients pay $10,000 a year to join.

Tschritter-Pawluck said staff also examine patients and book them for tests. But she said the booking process at CCSC was frustrating from the outset. Many patient files would not be entered into the database for months or they would be missed altogether.

In desperation, she testified, she and Caine decided to bypass the normal booking procedure and email their patient referrals directly to Bridges.

The inquiry has already heard that Bridges, the founder of CCSC and a driving force behind university fundraising, still ran tests at the CCSC but otherwise didn’t have a formal say in operations.

Commission head John Vertes asked Caine if Bridges didn’t have a management role at the CCSC, why go through him?

“What did you expect Dr. Bridges to do?” asked Vertes.

“Good point,” replied Caine. “My thinking was I had a problem and I was trying to find a solution to a problem.”

“I would have thought the solution to the problem was to go to the (CCSC) medical director Dr. (Alaa) Rostom or go to the zone vice-president or somebody else in a position of management authority over the CCSC,” said Vertes.

Caine said to him the natural progression up from a clerk is to a physician, and he knew Bridges.

Bridges and Pontifex are to testify at the inquiry on Wednesday.

Clerks at the CCSC and doctors have testified that from 2008 until the early months of 2012, when the queue-jumping inquiry was called, Helios patients at routine risk for colon cancer were screened within weeks at CCSC while ordinary Albertans were told to wait three years.

CCSC clerks said Helios patient files were given the highest priority and placed in a special file. Once a week, they said, Pontifex would check to make sure they had been booked for speedy service.

They said many of them went through Bridges and they eventually became known around the office as “Dr. Bridges’ private patients.”

They said the files were marked “Helios” and that Helios patients who missed appointments were tracked down and immediately rebooked, while ordinary patients who missed appointments without good reason were pushed to the back of the three-year waiting line.

Many of Caine’s Helios patient files, they said, even listed the time frame in which the patient wished to be treated.

Caine told the inquiry he didn’t know why the referrals would specify a date and added he has no idea how long the overall wait is for routine colon-cancer tests.

Tschritter-Pawluck told the inquiry they sent a gift basket of wine to the CCSC in 2010, but said they did so for all those who work with them, including janitors, mailroom clerks and security guards.

Both said that around March 2012, a month after the queue-jumping inquiry was called, Bridges told them he could no longer book their patients.

Also testifying Tuesday was Dr. Chen Fong, a radiology professor who founded Helios with his own money in 2007.

Fong said Helios was created as a non-profit organization to raise money for fellowships in the medical faculty at the University of Calgary.

Fong said he was not aware of any special relationship between Helios and the CCSC or that Helios patients allegedly got fast-track treatment at CCSC.

“I was very surprised when this thing came up,” said Fong, who said he first learned of it last December.

“I’m totally caught off guard.

“Helios was formed for the sole purpose of funding the fellowship program.”

— By Dean Bennett in Edmonton

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A candlelight vigil will be held in Red Deer on Thursday to honour the 350-plus people killed in the Easter bombing attack in Sri Lanka. Contributed photo
Candlelight vigil planned for deaths linked to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak

A candlelight vigil is being planned for those who died due to… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Jaxsen Wiebe battles Calgary Hitmen forward Cael Zimmerman for a loose puck when the two teams squared off in February last season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Calgary Hitmen shutout Red Deer Rebels

Rebels name centre Jayden Grubbe team captain ahead of Friday’s game

Traffic will be delayed on 40th Avenue and 19th Street until the end of February. (Advocate file photo).
Traffic delays expected downtown this weekend

Red Deer drivers will be delayed in the downtown area of the… Continue reading

COVID
Red Deer down to 313 active cases of COVID-19

Alberta reports an additional 411 COVID-19 cases

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter, top, is shown on the bench after NHL action against the Clagary Flames  in Calgary, Alta., Thursday April 9, 2015. Sutter says he has "unfinished business" as he returns to coach the Calgary Flames. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal
Darryl Sutter has ‘unfinished business’ in return to Calgary Flames

Darryl Sutter has ‘unfinished business’ in return to Calgary Flames

Walter Gretzky talks to people while at the funeral of Celtic music legend John Allan Cameron at St. Isaac Jogues Church in Pickering, Ont., Monday, Nov. 27, 2006. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
‘A legend in his own right’: Hockey world pays tribute to the late Walter Gretzky

‘A legend in his own right’: Hockey world pays tribute to the late Walter Gretzky

Jordan Spieth follows his approach shot to the ninth green during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Conners builds 1-shot lead at Bay Hill as McIlroy lurks

Conners builds 1-shot lead at Bay Hill as McIlroy lurks

Team Canada skip Brad Gushue makes a shot as he plays Team Ontario at the Brier in Calgary, Alta., Friday, March 5, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Brier in the Bubble: Defending champion Gushue beats Epping in opening draw

Brier in the Bubble: Defending champion Gushue beats Epping in opening draw

Switzerland's celebrates after the final match at the Women's Curling World Championship in Silkeborg Denmark Sunday March 24. 2019. The 2021 world women's curling championship is back on the curling calendar. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ritzau Scanpix - Henning Bagger
Women’s world curling championship back on calendar, added to Calgary bubble

Women’s world curling championship back on calendar, added to Calgary bubble

A guard stands outside the gates of an immigrant holding centre in Laval, Que., Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. Several men at a Montreal-area immigration detention refused food this week as part of a protest aimed at drawing attention to what they say are inhumane conditions and to secure their release.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Montreal-area immigration detainees on hunger strike over COVID-19 fears

Montreal-area immigration detainees on hunger strike over COVID-19 fears

Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan takes part in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Sajjan aide emailed military ombudsman about allegations days after meeting in 2018

Sajjan aide emailed military ombudsman about allegations days after meeting in 2018

Most Read