Dr. Gabrielle Horne on the Toxic Research Environment of Halifax
Dr. Gabrielle Horne, Dalhousie’s first female MD/PhD in adult cardiology, sought to find a new explanation for heart failure by analyzing the role of the septum, which sometimes compensates for a weak heart pump. Instead, she found herself embroiled in a legal battle with her hospital (affiliated to Dalhousie Medical School), after they tried to force their “researcher(s)” into her project. While Dr. Horne remains silent about their motives, it can be deduced that the Powers That Be were seeking to appropriate her research, so that select corporations could get to access to patents in the event of a new discovery being made. Having failed at that, they launched a campaign of fear and intimidation against her, questioning her mental health and assassinating her character. This was designed to prevent her from ever continuing her research. Maybe so that other corporate interests in other parts of the world could pick up with it. This post presents a transcript of her own description of what had happened, which she shared during a TEDx event on 11th March 2018.
Despite Dalhousie University’s vaunted claims of being a focal point of research, Halifax is clearly not a safe place for any genuine research. Once the Cabal get wind of a potential new discovery or new technology, they move in to appropriate it. And if they can’t, they destroy those researching it.
While Dalhousie University was not a direct party to her persecution, the Capital District Health Authority which was party, was affiliated with the Dalhousie Medical School.
The Canadian Association of University Teachers also attempted to put pressure on Dalhousie, which it claimed had recently moved from being “an ineffective defender of its faculty member to one of her attackers” by rescinding Horne’s clinical scholar award because of “her failure to report significant research activity.”[……..]
The Canadian Association of University Teachers, stymied by its failure to get cooperation from the health authority or action from the provincial government, which argues it has no authority in the dispute, stepped up pressure on Dalhousie to put pressure on its partners at the Capital District Health Authority.
In November, it wrote to university president Tom Traves, threatening to censure Dalhousie if it didn’t press for what it calls “procedural fairness” and do more to support its beleaguered medical faculty member. Such a censure could have profound consequences for Dalhousie—under censure procedures, CAUT’s 48,000 academics across Canada would be urged not to accept appointments at Dal or participate in university academic conferences, and academics world-wide would be asked to do the same.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Dal did respond—Traves wrote to the authority’s board chair, expressing the university’s “profound and continued concerns” about the treatment of Horne and Goodyear—but it wasn’t quite enough to convince CAUT to rescind its threat. Last weekend, the matter came up at CAUT’s regular executive committee meeting in Ottawa. Although it held off on proceeding with the formal censure process until November, it pointedly warned Dalhousie it expects action—and soon.
On 11th March 2018, a TEDx event was organized at Dalhousie University, and Dr. Gabrielle Horne got a chance to talk about what she went through. The following is a transcript of a selection of the talk where she describes what had happened. For the full video, click here.
The hospital put the instigators in complete control of my working life. They made unreasonable demands. they provoked me, hoping that I would lash out. Because if I did, they could say look, you see she is a problem. I had show complete restraint every single day and hold it together.
[…………..] There was one person I chose not to collaborate with. As the lead scientist, that was my call to make based on the needs of the group. That doctors was the hospital’s director of the clinic where our patients were recruited for research. He began writing secret letters of complaint against me, and he enlisted his allies. Before I quite knew what had happened I had been accused of unsafe research practices and the hospital took emergency action to ban me from the clinic where we did research. I knew those allegations weren’t true and I had the allegations to prove it, but the truth didn’t seem to matter. The hospital hired outside lawyers to prosecute me and to protect the instigators who were not telling the truth. That encouraged more false allegations and the hospital lawyers kept expanding their investigation. The hospital put the instigators in complete control of my working life. They made unreasonable demands. they provoked me, hoping that I would lash out. Because if I did, they could say look, you see she is a problem. I had show complete restraint every single day and hold it together. And I was still looking after very sick patients. When that didn’t work for them, their tactics became horrifying. They demanded that I be sent to an inpatient psychiatric unit in another country. It wasn’t a medical opinion. I wasn’t anybody’s patient. It was their demand.
When that didn’t work for them, their tactics became horrifying. They demanded that I be sent to an inpatient psychiatric unit in another country. It wasn’t a medical opinion. I wasn’t anybody’s patient. It was their demand.
I had visions of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest. I called the University Provost and he said to me, “you have to realise it’s a power play,” and he was right. Think about that. The University didn’t protect me. It was my lawyer who said they will have to send me there first. So if you end up there, I will already be there and you don’t have to worry. The hospital backed down, and they never mentioned the supposed severe mental illness. My story broke in the media early on and the ranking senior doctor in the administration said that only patient safety issues would trigger this review. And she said it on National Radio. At the three year mark, I began waking up in the middle of the night sitting bolt upright with the words three years ringing in my years. My colleagues were building their careers and lives and mine was crumbling. My lawyer wrote to the hospital board and told them about my loss and suffering as a result of this interminable investigation. He begged them to end it and just give me a hearing. And the letter back basically said, “we are not finished yet.” An investigation that was supposed to take four weeks took four years. By that time, the research program had shut down. That research was lost. My staff had moved on to other careers. Many of the patients who took part in that research program died. I was so traumatized by the experience of being in this hostage-like situation, afraid of what I would be accused of every single day, that I had lost the capacity to think about the future. The hospital board came back and said that in fact there was no basis to take the action that had been taken. But instead of apologizing, they blamed it on me. They said that I was a doctor of bad character, and they publicized it on their website. My reputation was destroyed. I couldn’t get a job anywhere. I was completely trapped. And she said it on National Radio. My only chance to clear my name and maybe get back to research was to sue the hospital, which i did. And the hospital lawyers, they fought me at every turn, and they laughed back into my face.
My story broke in the media early on and the ranking senior doctor in the administration said that only patient safety issues would trigger this review.
The hospital kept the instigators in complete control of my working life during the ten years it took to get it to court. And Despite all that, many doctors would say I was lucky. I had tremendous support from other doctors. My co-workers bubble-wrapped me with kindness. My patients made sure I knew I was appreciated. I had amazing lawyers and amazing personal support. The media saw through the hospital’s spin and tried to get the truth out there. But I too have stories of doctors in situations like this who ended up losing everything. And I read the literature on workplace bullying and the experts said you can’t win, you have to get out. I couldn’t. I was trapped. So in my despair, early on, a colleague said to me if you have trained in both Medicine and Research, you have a very large toolkit of survival tools, and you should use it. So I dug deep, and with the help of colleagues, that is what I did. I knew that I needed priority. All researches do. And I knew that this battle would be largely won or lost in my own head. If I fell apart mentally, there was nothing no one could do to save me. So I prioritized my mental well-being. And I knew that the mission-critical was having support at work. So I made sure I was an easy person to support. I never had dramas. I made sure that all conversations were focused on solutions. That required emotional discipline. That is a lot easier than fighting this alone. But I had to do more than survive every day. I had to get out of this. So my colleagues and I looked at psychology. The instigators didn’t hide the pleasure they took in the suffering I experienced. That’s cruelty. So I treated the cruelty like a disease. I didn’t feed it. So when I walked the corridors of the hospital, I tried to smile. And I always held my head high. After the instigators came some people who piled on. There were a few doctors, lawyers, hospital administrators. People who were professional and smart and they knew that if they behaved irresponsibly in the workplace, there could be serious consequences to them. But they chose to take part even though they had no skin in the game. So why was that? What motivated them? Researchers comb the literature looking for clues. And I found this. The dark triad. It is a constellation of three personality traits that predicts workplace bullying. One of those is narcissism. Narcissists are drawn to the idea of judging others and they are not fussy about the truth. So I could see how they would be attracted to piling on. The narcissists have a serious weakness. They need admiration the way the rest of us need oxygen. So they are incredibly sensitive to criticism to the point that it sends them into a complete tailspin. So our theory was that no matter how protected or powerful they were in the institution, if the media reported what they did in a poor light, they would be devastated, even if they weren’t personally named. Then if it wasn’t attractive to pile on, then maybe they would rethink and walk away. So even though I am a private person, when the media called, I cooperated. There is a difference between instigators and pilers on on one hand, and what ended up happening was the entire Management Board of a Healthcare Authority working together to crush an innocent physician, which is what happened. Why did that happen? Well, we studied the hospital the way you study a disease. We looked at how my case was being handled and how money flowed through the institution. And we found three key things. First of all, Number One, there was a complete absence of supervision or accountability at every level of the institution. Number two, there was no attempt at truth-seeking at any level of the institution. So the first resulted in loss of, lack of authority, sorry authority breakdown and the second resulted in a breakdown in the moral culture. And third, the hospital was happy to allow outside corporate lawyers free reign in the situation. So what was happening in these corporate law firms? Well what happens in a law firm is secret. It’s like a black box that you can’t see into. But researchers are used to investigating black boxes. What we do is, when we have a situation that is effectively a black box which you can’t see into, we look into the change in behavior of that black box in response to a change in the environment. So when the media reported that corporate lawyers were siphoning shocking amounts of money out of the healthcare budget into their law firms to persecute innocent physicians, their environment changed. So you would think that a responsible law firm would say we better make sure we are acting in the public interest. Let’s have a fresh set of eyes on this and make sure we are not off side. If that happened inside the black box, we would have seen a change in the behavior of the lawyers. That didn’t happen. So studying the hospital and its lawyers taught us that leaving this situation to play itself out with this legal investigation would never get me out of this because those in power had no incentive to stop.
So when the media reported that corporate lawyers were siphoning shocking amounts of money out of the healthcare budget into their law firms to persecute innocent physicians, their environment changed.
So when senior physicians said we’d like to do our own inquiry and the hospital balked, I said yes. When the association for University teachers said we’d like to do an inquiry and the hospital balked and threatened, I said yes. And when they finally relented to public pressure and ended the investigation, I launched a lawsuit. I had a very thorny relationship with hope during this time. Hope meant either the hospital would do the right thing or somebody would get me out of this. And that lead to devastating disappointments. I went from being a person who was excited about the possibilities of tomorrow every day to a person who is afraid to hope. And that was a very difficult challenge to overcome. But I did it working on my research plan. It’s like an experiment. You set up the experiment not knowing what will come out of it. But if you set it up right, something good should happen. So when I had a chance to take part in a non-profit board, I took that so that I could be proud of something. When I had the chance to start a little clinic outside the usual hospital structure, this time for patients and families whose genes had caused aneurysms, I jumped at it, and with my colleagues, we built a huge program, the National Profile, that won awards. And while I was building a life I could live with, all but one of the instigators left the province. So the trial came, and I don’t have time to tell you about it, but I will share with you one moment. I was on the witness stand. He had a spreadsheet we’d asked for from the hospital and they gave it to us in such tiny font it wasn’t legible. So my lawyer was drawing attention to it by asking to read from it. A hospital lawyer with bad eyesight handed me his magnifying glass. And I dropped it. I immediately apologized. Afterwards I wondered why on earth I had apologized to this man over something so trivial when he had wreaked such damage on my life. I thought about it again. What I did was natural. When you’ve done something you shouldn’t, its normal to apologize and be worried about the damage. It’s a sign of a formed character. And it’s the sign of a conscience. And its also the gulf between me, that lawyer, and all the people he represented. I had to fight the hardest to stop them changing the person that I was.
I had to fight the hardest to stop them changing the person that I was.
The verdict came back. The jury found that the hospital had acted in bad faith and malice. That means that the stories they told about me were not honest mistakes. And the damage done was no accident. The court of appeal endorsed it. They pointed to all the evidence that showed that the bad faith extended through the entire institution from the instigators all the way up to the board. I had the largest damages award for personal suffering in Canadian legal history. So this beating heart took me on a scientific journey I never would have chosen. It should never have happened. But in the end what I learnt from research did help me to survive. All the way through this, people told me that when bullies have all the power, they always win. And it turns out that’s not true. And I felt that was an idea worth sharing.
Since then, the Capital District Health Authority is no more. It has been amalgamated with a new, province-wide Health Authority. And likely, what had happened with Dr. Gabrielle Horne was an undocumented factor. Dr. Horne has won huge damages, but her legal fees were also very high. And her research has been shelved for now.