The man who hired pathologist Rajgopal Menon told an inquiry Monday that he was desperate to find a pathologist for New Brunswick's Miramichi region in 1992, and only checked his references in passing.

"I was borderline desperate," John Tucker, former CEO of the Miramichi Regional Hospital, told an inquiry that is looking into Menon's work.

Menon, 73, worked as a pathologist at the Miramichi Regional Health Authority from 1995 until February 2007, when he was suspended following complaints about incomplete diagnoses and delayed lab results.

A public commission is examining how breast and prostate cancer tests resulted in misdiagnoses at the Miramichi Regional Health Authority.

Tucker, who was CEO until February 2002, when he was convicted of 17 counts of fraud and breach of trust, told the inquiry that he was desperate because prior to the lab opening, tests from Chatham and Newcastle had to be sent to Moncton or Saint John for processing.  

Menon applied for the position in response to a job advertisement, Tucker said. While he checked Menon's Saint John references, Tucker said he did not check references from Fredericton or the Netherlands. Menon had only worked at the Saint John Hospital for two months.

Tucker said the only hint he had of problems with Menon's work came from a comment made by a doctor in Saint John who said Menon could be slow with test results.

Tucker also testified that he made Menon the permanent chief pathologist despite recommendations that Menon be given just a one-year contract.

"I was instructed to do whatever necessary to get physicians to the river," he said.

Tucker told the inquiry he couldn't recall ever hearing about any problems with Menon's work while he was CEO of the hospital.

Documents suggest problems

But documents at the inquiry Monday said that Tucker met with Menon on Aug. 4, 1998, to discuss complaints about delays in his work, doubts about his abilities, and questions about his frequent absences from the lab. There were written and verbal complaints about Menon's work, according to the documents.

A letter from Tucker's office was drafted two days later, telling Menon that he was going to be fired. The letter was never sent, and Menon stayed on for almost a decade.

Tucker, who now lives in Newfoundland, testified that he didn't remember the letter. He pointed out that the letter shown to him at the inquiry wasn't signed and wasn't on official letterhead.

He said as CEO, he had the ability to suspend doctors' privileges and he did so when necessary — but not in Menon's case.

Tucker will continue his testimony Tuesday.

A peer review of Menon's work, released publicly in March, indicated the pathologist had serious medical problems, including cataracts and tremors in his hands, which could have affected the accuracy of his work.

More than 23,700 patients' cases from the eastern New Brunswick hospital from 1995 to 2007 are being reviewed now by an Ottawa lab. The audit of the tests will also include about 100 carried out for Regional Health Authority 4 in Edmundston in 2002, when Menon also worked there.

Also at the inquiry Monday, lawyers representing affected patients from the Miramichi region said their request for provincial funding was turned down.

Lawyer Ray Wagner said other groups are getting funding from the province to attend the inquiry. The lack of funding means lawyers representing victims, who are also involved in a class action lawsuit, will have a reduced presence at the inquiry, Wagner said.

Corrections

  • The health authority in Edmundston is Regional Health Authority 4 not Regional Health Authority 3 as originally reported.
    May 14, 2008 8:39 AM AT