The B.C. Ministry of Health is refusing to answer questions about what mistakes it admits it made in the firing of a senior researcher in September 2012.
According to an August 25 media release, the health ministry has settled claims made by Ron Mattson, who was previously suing the government for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract, and suing for defamation both the province and then health minister Margaret MacDiarmid.
“The government advises that its decision to terminate Mr. Mattson was a regrettable mistake,” the press release states. “The government regrets any hardship and possible loss of reputation which Mr. Mattson endured.”
In a telephone call, Kristy Anderson, a spokesperson for the ministry, said the government would not be doing interviews or divulging additional information beyond what is presented in that statement.
The release provides no details related to the mistake of firing Mattson, who at the time of his dismissal was a manager of policy and special programs for the province’s PharmaCare division and a government employee of 28 years.
Mattson is the third former health-care worker with whom the province has reached a settlement to end lawsuits filed in response to a round of firings that occurred through 2012.
On July 23, the Straight reported that Dr. Malcolm Maclure joined Robert Hart as the second researcher to return to work.
The number of people the ministry fired through 2012 eventually grew to seven, with at least one additional contractor also losing their job. The province also terminated research agreements with universities for the course of an investigation.
All seven individuals either filed lawsuits of wrongful dismissal or pursued grievances through the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU).
Graham Whitmarsh, who was deputy health minister at the time of those firings, was removed from that position after the provincial election last fall. He was given a severance of $250,000.
The scandal relates to a data breach that occurred within a division of the province’s PharmaCare program.
However, in June 2013, the Straight reported that such incidents are not uncommon, noting that Vancouver reporter Bob Mackin obtained a government list of 350 data breaches recorded between January 2, 2010, and December 31, 2012.
A June 2013 report by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia provides some details about the 2012 breach. It describes how a ministry employee provided two contractors with sets of data that included personal health numbers. A third instance of improper disclosure involved the transfer of personal health information from one ministry employee to another without proper authorization. All three cases were found to have contravened the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The report adds states that the ministry “might have been authorized to disclose the personal information to the contracted researcher and employer” but failed to do so.
The province has never explained why it reacted so severely to these findings of inappropriate conduct.
Since August 2013, the health ministry has refused at least 10 interview requests filed by the Straight in relation to the firings.
In addition to claims settled by Hart, Maclure, and now Mattson, there remain outstanding lawsuits filed by Rebecca Warburton and William Warburton. Former employees seeking redress through the BCGEU are David Scott and Ramsay Hamdi. A third, Roderick MacIsaac, committed suicide in January 2013 before his case was settled.
Mattson has said he will not return to the ministry. He is currently an elected councillor for the town of View Royal, and has said he will continue on in that role.
While refusing to answer questions, Anderson acknowledged the Ministry of Health has so-far spent just under $3.4 million on this investigation.