Naturopath in toddler's meningitis death trial to be investigated by industry body

The College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta is investigating one of its members, Tracey Tannis, in relation to the death of Ezekiel Stephan from bacterial meningitis.

Complaint signed by 43 doctors calls Tracey Tannis's actions into question

David Stephan, 32, and his wife Collet Stephan, 36, were found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life for 19-month-old Ezekiel, who died in March 2012. (Facebook)

The College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta is investigating one of its members in relation to the death of 19-month-old Ezekiel Stephan from bacterial meningitis. 

Ezekiel's parents, David, 32, and Collet, 36, were found guilty Tuesday of not providing the necessaries of life to the toddler. 

A letter to the CNDA, signed by 43 physicians and surgeons, raised a number of concerns with the conduct of Tracey Tannis, a naturopath consulted by the Stephans and who testified at their trial.

Kristen Tanaka, the college's complaints director, responded in a letter dated March 29 and obtained by CBC News. ​

"I have determined that your complaint will be investigated pursuant to section 55(2)(d) of the Health Professions Act," she wrote.

Tanaka said there will be an investigation and then a decision will be made to either dismiss the complaint or to refer the matter to a tribunal. 

Naturopathy is a regulated health profession in Alberta, but the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta — the body that regulates it — was not established until about five months after Ezekiel died in August 2012. 

Standard of care not met, doctors say

"By any objective measure of a health-care professional licensed to care for children Dr. Tannis did not meet the standard of care," reads the original complaint letter, dated March 28.

"According to what has been given as evidence in the Stephan trial, Dr. Tannis did not physically examine Ezekiel, who was so stiff from meningeal inflammation that he could not sit in his car seat when his parents took him to the Lethbridge Naturopathic Medical Clinic."

The doctors raise concerns that Tannis said she did not communicate with Collet, "yet two other people have given statements that Dr. Tannis did, in fact, discuss viral meningitis with Collet, and gave her echinacea anyway."

The death report on Ezekiel determined he had bacterial meningitis, not the less serious viral variety of the disease. 

The letter questions whether Tannis is aware bacterial meningitis is fatal if not treated with antibiotics and can cause brain damage without prompt treatment. 

"The degree of responsibility that Dr. Tannis bears for the tragic outcome Ezekiel Stephan suffered is a matter for the CNDA to explore and publicly address," reads the letter. 

The doctors also express concern about the lack of contact between Tannis and Ezekiel. 

"Albertans should also expect that any regulated health professional using the designation 'Dr.' would not recommend a treatment for a child without first physically examining them in order to arrive at a diagnosis," they wrote. 

The letter concludes with one additional recommendation for the college: to examine whether it is appropriate for naturopaths to sell treatments out of their own clinics, and if so, to ensure they are responsible for the effectiveness of the treatment. 

Beverly Huang, president of the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta, says her members are regulated just as stringently as dentists, optometrists and physicians under the Health Professions Act.

"There's always going to be critics of any profession. I think what people here in Alberta need to understand and to be reassured is that there are regulations in place and there is a regulatory body in place," she said.

"It's the same regulatory standards, it's the same documentation, the same processes, by which every other regulated health profession is bound by here in this province."

The CNDA also put out a statement saying complaints and investigations are confidential and will not be made public unless it's determined a hearing is warranted. 

Tannis has not responded to calls from CBC News. 

David and Collet Stephan will be back in court on June 13 in order to determine a timeline for sentencing.

Read the complaint letter from the physicians and the response from the CNDA:

With files from Mark Harvey