Toronto — Published on Friday, Mar. 12, 2010 2:42AM EST Last updated on Saturday, Mar. 13, 2010 3:17AM EST
A Windsor, Ont., doctor at the centre of a controversy over mistaken mastectomies has won back her hospital privileges, but her cases will be monitored for the next three months.
Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital has reinstated Barbara Heartwell as a member of its medical staff, effective immediately, after a hearing by its board of directors Thursday.
“It’s a little disappointing,” Janice LaPorte said from her home in Sarnia, Ont., last night. “But, thankfully, they do have her under restrictions. She’s going to be watched.”
Ms. LaPorte, 58, was one of two women who had mastectomies, only to find out later that they did not have breast cancer.
Thursday’s hearing was not open to the public, including Ms. LaPorte and other former patients of Dr. Heartwell’s.
“It’s kind of upsetting that everything’s been kept so quiet,” Ms. LaPorte said. “We are the victims. We should have been told they would be discussing us.”
The board says in its written reasons for its decision, released last night, that it accepted the recommendations of the hospital’s advisory committee, which determined that Dr. Heartwell “was not an immediate threat to patient safety.”
Her reinstatement does not end her problems. Dr. Heartwell is under investigation by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the provincial medical watchdog. But the hospital revealed last night that she was also the subject of a complaint back in 2004.
The college resolved the matter by issuing a written caution to her and the case was not referred to its disciplinary arm.
“There was no evidence submitted that suggested the patient was exposed to harm or injury arising from the conduct, performance or competence of Dr. Heartwell,” the decision says.
As part of its internal investigation, the hospital has reviewed 4,249 surgical cases performed by Dr. Heartwell over the past decade. While 129 of these cases have not yet been fully reviewed, no concerns have been identified, the hospital said.
The advisory committee reviewed three of her cases during a special meeting on March 2, including one where she “fully admitted” that she read a pathology report incorrectly. “The [committee] believed that Dr. Heartwell could change her practice such that this type of error will be avoided in the future,” the decision says.
The Ontario government has appointed investigators at all three hospitals in Windsor to review pathology test errors and botched medical procedures.