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Interior Health rebuked again for failing to return eye surgeon to OR

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK

Despite an order compelling Interior Health to return an eye surgeon to Kelowna operating rooms, the doctor was neglected for months as he tried to negotiate.

The BC hospital regulator said Interior Health showed a "lack of respect" for its past order after it ignored Dr. Malvinder Hoonjan's proposed plan to return to the hospital.

In a recently published decision, the Hospital Appeal Board said Interior Health management should treat its orders as if the health authority's own board of directors made a decision, ultimately pointing blame at Interior Health's top officials.

"The failure of Interior Health to respond appropriately to the terms and conditions in the decision is largely the failure of the Interior Health board to whom the senior medical leadership are responsible," the appeal board decision reads.

The decision is the second from the appeal board in a dispute that began in 2019.

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Hoonjan had been operating at Royal Inland Hospital as a retinal surgeon for nearly a decade when he lost hospital privileges in 2019. Retinal surgeries were moved from Kamloops to Kelowna, where Hoonjan lived.

However, he wasn't allowed to operate at Kelowna General Hospital and the ophthalmologist took the issue to court.

The Hospital Appeal Board issued a decision in December 2022, lambasting Interior Health for how it treated Hoonjan, finding it had no reason not to allow him to take on procedures in Kelowna.

That decision gave Interior Health 60 days to negotiate a "reintroduction plan" after he spent months outside of operating rooms.

Hoonjan worked "diligently" to propose a plan to the health authority before the 60 day deadline was up, but his emails went unanswered. Interior Health staff, meanwhile, made their own plans for him.

After ignoring his suggestions and after the deadline, Interior Health came back with a proposal that would require he retrain and re-certify to perform surgery in BC. The health authority argued he spent too much time outside of the surgical room and was not qualified to operate, but ignored the fact it was Interior Health's fault for the delay, according the decision.

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It also ignored the fact that Hoonjan was able to get certified to operate in Ontario within the time Interior Health was ignoring his reintegration plan.

Hoonjan also sent emails to the two other retinal surgeons at Kelowna General, aiming to observe their operations before he takes on his own again.

"Neither allowed him to observe their surgeries, even though one of the surgeons acknowledged that there were other medical students and learners in the operating room," the decision read.

The appeal board said allowing Hoonjan to observe their operations would have been a "bare minimum" accommodation and it was Interior Health's "complete failure" to allow it.

In its most recently published decision, the hospital appeal board awarded legal costs of up to $10,000 to Hoonjan due to Interior Health's delay.

Along with the order that Interior Health pay up for Hoonjan's costs, it also ordered Interior Health to include it within the health authority's next board meeting. The decision was also to be circulated to members of Interior Health's ophthalmologist division and its senior medical leadership.

Hoonjan has since been allowed returned to Kelowna General Hospital, according to an Interior Health spokesperson.

— This story was updated at 9:06 a.m., Dec. 14, 2023, to say Dr. Malvinder Hoonjan is operating again at Kelowna General Hospital. A previous version incorrectly stated Interior Health did not respond.

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