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NDP Demands an Independent Investigation into Alberta Health Services

The call follows The Tyee’s reporting about allegations of misconduct.

Charles Rusnell 10 Jan 2024The Tyee

Charles Rusnell is an independent investigative reporter based in Edmonton.

The Alberta NDP is calling for an independent public investigation into allegations of unethical conduct against a senior Alberta Health Services senior administrator. These allegations were first reported by The Tyee.

In a letter to Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange Tuesday, NDP health critics David Shepherd and Dr. Luanne Metz reference an internal whistleblower report obtained by The Tyee that contains numerous conflict of interest allegations against Dr. Daniel O’Connell, the head of AHS’s ear, nose and throat section.

The NDP letter says the complaint “makes severe allegations that Dr. O’Connell has been acting in a manner that supports his private interests rather than the public health of Alberta Health Services or the best interests of patients.

“In his position, Dr. O’Connell has significant influence over where patients will be seen and undergo surgery,” the letter states. “Anyone with this sort of authority should be expected to operate with the rules and guidelines of AHS.”

Five surgeons filed the complaint in November 2022. They alleged O’Connell had been using his position to further his private interests by directing patients to the Canadian Cancer Care clinic and by promoting surgery in private surgical facilities. O’Connell is prominently featured on the clinic’s website, and sources say he owns about five per cent of the facility.

The allegations against O’Connell are unproven. He previously declined two interview requests from The Tyee.

The letter says that although the internal investigation of the whistleblower complaint should have been concluded within 120 days, more than 400 days have passed since the surgeons filed the complaint to the AHS Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer.

AHS promoted O’Connell from interim head to a permanent position about six weeks ago despite the ongoing investigation.

“This raises questions about whether Dr. Lyle Oberg, or other members of AHS leadership, including President and CEO Athana Mentzelopoulos, were aware of these allegations when this appointment was made,” the NDP letter says.

Mentzelopoulos, who was appointed as AHS CEO in December, previously served as a senior political executive in the office of former B.C. premier Christy Clark.

“In order to be confident that the investigation and its findings are completely independent of any form of interference, it should be done externally from the government or anyone who received their appointment directly from the government, including Dr. Oberg or President Mentzelopoulos, or any of their appointees or hires,” the NDP letter continues.

The whistleblower complaint also alleged that O’Connell played a role in effectively blocking the hiring of a young surgeon, Dr. Dan O’Brien. O’Brien and his wife subsequently moved to Omaha, Nebraska.

“Albertans deserve to know that they are at the heart of health care decision-making rather than someone using the system to promote and advance their personal financial interests,” the letter states.

LaGrange’s press secretary has not responded to requests for comment from The Tyee.

If you have any information for this story, or information for another story, please contact Charles Rusnell in confidence via email.  [Tyee]

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