Dr. Margaret MacDiarmid

UPDATE: Cash, apologies coming for fired health researchers

No political interference in 'rushed decision' to terminate seven employees and a drug research contractor, Ombudsperson says

The B.C. government will apologize and compensate health researchers fired after a “flawed investigation and rushed decision” to deal with allegations of mishandled patient treatment data, as B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke recommended Thursday.

“Goodwill” payments from $15,000 to $150,000 should be made to the affected health ministry employees, Chalke recommended after a review of the 2012 investigation. He said a $500,000 scholarship endowment at the University of Victoria should be set up in honour of Roderick MacIsaac, who lost his UVic co-op position with the ministry and committed suicide in January 2013.

Other researchers have been reinstated or received out-of-court settlements since the government admitted the case was mishandled. Chalke’s report concludes that the decision to fire people was made by then-deputy health minister Graham Whitmarsh, and there was no political interference.

Kim Henderson, deputy minister to the premier and head of the public service, said compensation will be paid and she is considering whether further action will be taken against people in the health ministry who handled the case.

Henderson issued a statement that offered “an unqualified and comprehensive apology to all those who were adversely affected by public service conduct.”

Then-health minister Margaret MacDiarmid announced the terminations in September 2012, one day after being sworn in. MacDiarmid read out a ministry announcement that said the handling of confidential patient data used to evaluate drugs had been referred to the RCMP for investigation, which Chalke confirmed was not accurate.

“This breakdown happened in part because a number of government controls and practices were not followed,” Chalke said. “Investigators did not bring an open mind and the investigation process was unfair. The dismissals were rushed, the human resources process effectively collapsed and there was confusion about the scope of legal advice provided, all of which resulted in terminations that were unjustified.”