• Carmen Marie Fabio

Questions remain following doctors’ departure from the VSPCR


PHOTO BY CARMEN MARIE FABIO

Located in Hudson, the Vaudreuil-Soulanges Palliative Care Residence currently has eight of its 12 beds occupied following operational changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the departure of five of its doctors.

Though the departure of five doctors from the Vaudreuil-Soulanges Palliative Care Residence (VSPCR) happened three months ago, the issue is being brought to the surface once again following another letter submitted to The Journal signed by the group which claimed in an August 11 email that the doctors were, “…ousted without warning and without reasons by a newly appointed management.” The letter went on to describe the VSPCR as becoming a “shadow of its former self” given the reduction in medical staff and expressing concern about, “…the repercussions of this medical vacuum on the continuity of palliative care in the region of VS.” It concludes by suggesting the residence be placed under a level of governmental supervision.

Series of emails

The original anonymous email was sent through an encrypted service provider but a subsequent email received Monday, August 24 was signed by the five doctors – Dr. Sylvie Dufresne, Dr. Andreea Iancu, Dr. Aida Pop, Dr. Annick Terret-Hans, and Dr. Sarah Verger-Demers.

“There was absolutely no reason given,” said Dr. Sylvie Dufresne who was one of the original founders and was asked to leave her position in May. “This is an institution paid for, in part, with public funds and we want the community of Vaudreuil-Soulanges to know.”

Dr. Dufresne said her dismissal happened so quickly she had no time to say her goodbyes to the patients or the staff or offer a thank you to the population. In an interview with The Journal August 26, she maintains she has no idea why she was terminated.

Response from the VSPCR

VSPCR Executive Director Christine Boyle released an official statement August 25 in response to the doctors’ allegations that reads, in part, “Questions have been raised lately about the departure of some staff members at the Vaudreuil-Soulanges Palliative Care Residence. In order to rectify the facts, the Residence wishes to make the following statement:

The Residence’s mission is to provide a calm and peaceful environment for patients at the end of life, and their families. We have been working with professionalism and rigour to offer the highest standards of palliative care for our community for almost 10 years. This requires a positive work environment for all staff.

To this end, certain elements affecting the work climate were brought to our attention, which triggered in-depth reflection on the part of the Residence and its Board of Directors. As a result, following discussions and consultations with certain professionals, the Board of Directors made a difficult human resources decision for the benefit of our staff as well as our patients. It is important to note that the decision concerned only one member of the team, the other departures being voluntary.”

When asked why Dr. Dufresne was asked to leave, Boyle declined to give the reason.

Dufresne asserts there’s no truth to the statement that the other four doctors left voluntarily. “There’s no way they would abandon a ship that was functioning so well.” She added that further fall-out from the group departure means Université de Montréal’s medical students are not being offered their traditional stagière positions at the facility this year.

Second opinion

“Dr. Dufresne was fired with no reason given to us,” said Dr. Terret-Hans, one of the five who signed the letter. “We tried to pursue it but they (VSPCR administration) changed the agreement between the CISSSMO (Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de la Montérégie-Ouest) so that we were automatically fired. They can't deny that.” The entente allowed the doctors to work in the residence to provide continuity in treatment for palliative care patients. She reiterated that the doctors' letter was to let the population know that services are not the same at the residence, disagreeing with the idea that the COVID-19 pandemic has played a role in the lower occupancy rate.

“There were lots of other changes during COVID which is not the best time to make changes,” said Terret-Hans. “For us, it's a sad story because we were really involved and we just want the best service for the population.” Both Dr. Dufresne and Dr. Terret-Hans continue to work in the field of end-of-life care.

History

In November, 2016 The Journal published an article after the VSPCR’s then-Director General Julie-Anne Lambert submitted her resignation a mere 11 months after stepping into the role, citing difficulties in carrying out her duties at the residence.

Lambert’s resignation came on the heels of the departure, a year earlier, of former DG Richard Mainville and Co-President Sylvie Crevier.

In her resignation letter obtained by The Journal she wrote, ““Unfortunately, from the get-go the founding members of the Residence did not hesitate to share with me that they did not want me as the new Executive Director. So for the past year, I have been battling to maintain my integrity in the face of innuendos and unfounded criticism, I have been trying to protect employees who do not belong in ‘the right gang’ and I am struggling to ensure the Residence continues to receive the much needed funding from donors, sponsors and the community to safeguard its survival.”

COVID-19

In a previous interview with VSPCR management, they confirmed not all the 12 available beds were occupied but denied it was because of the doctors’ departure. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic meant patients’ families were forbidden from visiting and the subsequent discovery of the presence of the virus at the facility in early May led to the decision to close the doors and transfer existing patients to other palliative care facilities in the province. As of this week, eight of the 12 beds are occupied and the statement indicates the VSPCR has, “…46 dedicated employees, including three doctors and a care team composed of 28 individuals who work with humanity to serve our patients and their families.”

Feedback from CISSSMO

When asked for a comment, CISSMO External Communications Officer Mélissa Gilbert sent the following communiqué by email.

“The CISSS de la Montérégie-Ouest is responsible for providing palliative and end-of-life care to clients in its territory, directly and indirectly. The Vaudreuil-Soulanges Palliative Care Residence Foundation (VSPCRF) is an autonomous entity with a board of directors.

The CISSSMO and the VSPCRF have a service agreement to ensure the accessibility, continuity, and quality of services to people requiring palliative and end-of-life care.

The CISSSMO continues to collaborate with the VSPCRF to offer quality palliative and end-of-life care to its clients.

The VSPCR concluded its statement by saying because this is a human resources issue, they cannot disclose any more details and will not be making any further comments.

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