Investigation launched after medical information of Winnipeg Jets players, politicians leaked
Leaked list suggests professional athletes, public figures may have received MRI tests sooner
The leak of a confidential document outing several public figures and professional athletes as possibly receiving preferential access to MRI scans has prompted the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to launch an internal investigation.
Several media outlets, including CBC News, were leaked a document prepared by the Office of the Auditor General of Manitoba as part of its research into its recent audit into the province's management of MRI services.
The undated document names Winnipeg Jets players, politicians, medical professionals and senior WRHA management as receiving "potential preferential treatment" when it came to the speed in which they accessed MRIs.
Almost 60 professional athletes, six politicians, four senior WRHA managers and eight radiologists are named in the list.
One of the politicians is former NDP health minister Theresa Oswald. She gave CBC News consent to use her personal health information because she wanted to highlight how serious privacy is between a patient and a health-care provider.
Oswald vehemently denied that she ever asked for preferential treatment. She said she was listed for getting an MRI scan twice in one month because she became claustrophobic the first time and had to reschedule.
"When I was contacted by a reporter yesterday, out of the blue, and that reporter had information about dates and times and places about my health history that I did not consent to give, I found it very jarring and violated," Oswald, who is now the executive director of the Women's Health Clinic, said in an interview Tuesday.
"I am concerned for the women of Manitoba who see a story like this and wonder, 'Who could ever get a hold of my private information and use it without my consent?'"
'I suspect this was a deliberate act,' says auditor general
In response, the WRHA announced Tuesday that it is launching an internal investigation into the leak.
In an internal memo to staff, WRHA president and CEO Milton Sussman said the leak is a serious breach of the province's Personal Health Information Act, which states that organizations with access to personal health information are bound to protect the privacy of that information.
"Today, the WRHA commenced an internal investigation into how the names became public," Sussman wrote in the memo. "We are investigating how it happened and attempting to identify where the breach occurred."
Auditor General Norm Ricard said it was not his office that leaked the information, and the leak has put into question whether they should share confidential information with the province's largest health authority. He said the information was initially shared only with two members of the WRHA.
"We would think long and hard before sharing a detailed list again," Ricard told CBC News.
"We are not happy with it and we are very concerned that confidential information was released, and it certainly wasn't by someone in my office…. I suspect this was a deliberate act of leaking information."
Meanwhile, Manitoba's health minister wants the provincial ombudsman to launch an investigation of his own. Kelvin Goertzen told reporters on Tuesday that he is deeply troubled by the leak.
"I apologize to those individuals, personally and on behalf of the Department of Health for their names and their health information being reported publicly," he said.
"I think it is unacceptable and I will apologize to them individually as well."
Report shows public figures get quicker access
Ricard's report, released last month, raised questions surrounding whether public figures and athletes were jumping the queue and getting MRI scans faster than average Manitobans.
He concluded that there were instances in which patients received priority treatment for non-medical reasons, but he could not prove it was based on their status as a public figure or professional athlete.
About one-third of the persons of "influence" flagged by the auditor general's report had received scans on the same day they were ordered, the report found.
"Some of these patients got unusually quick scans," the report stated in part.
Ricard wrote that there is concern influential people may have been given priority to fill appointments made available by cancellations or last-minute no-shows.
The 43-page report also noted that as of last June, the average wait time for an MRI scan in the province was 23 weeks — almost twice as long as the wait five years earlier.
Ricard said his findings highlight the need for more Manitobans to be aware of the cancellation list, which is part of his recommendations. He told CBC News that public figures and those within the medical field ask to be put on the list, whereas average Manitobans may not be aware it exists.
Winnipeg Jets players get quick MRIs
The report flags several Winnipeg Jets players as possibly receiving preferential treatment for MRIs.
An analysis of players' injury reports and the dates of their MRIs, provided in the document, found several instances in which a player was reported as injured and received an MRI the next day.
Dr. Brock Wright, the WRHA's senior vice-president of clinical services and chief medical officer, said the athletes do not get quicker access, but get quicker MRIs because of the seriousness of their injuries.
"Other patients with similar injuries, one would expect, would also get that kind of timely access to MRIs," he said.
"With a professional athlete, if they were denied that kind of appropriate access to their medical needs, that could have rather devastating consequences on their ability to return to work, given their profession is professional sports."
The WRHA does not track wait times for patients deemed "priority one," but the target is for patients to have a scan within 24 hours.
Wright noted that professional sports teams such as the Jets pay a fee for uninsured out-of-province athletes to get tests such as MRIs. The fee is "substantially more" than the cost to do the MRI, he said.
"That extra fee that they pay does not buy them preferred access," Wright added.
A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Jets declined to comment.
Several Winnipeg Blue Bombers were also listed in the leaked document.
A spokesperson for the CFL team declined to comment.
"We don't comment on treatment of our players in any regard, as those matters are between the team and the athlete," he said.
'No evidence' of queue jumping says WRHA
Wright said the WRHA has found no evidence that anyone, including its executives, jumped the queue for an MRI scan.
An internal investigation into the auditor general's findings concluded that extenuating circumstances led to its four executives getting quicker access.
"We have no evidence whatsoever that anyone has been getting access to diagnostic imaging exams on the basis of who they know," said Wright.
He said in one instance, a senior WRHA manager who needed an MRI was in the building when a patient cancelled their appointment at the last minute. Rather than leave the appointment unfilled, the executive was called.
Two officials waited the appropriate time, and the other had a medical condition that required an expedited scan.
Sussman was one of the four executives named in the list. In the memo sent to staff, he denied getting faster service.
"I want to be very clear — I did not seek preferential treatment, nor was [I] told I was receiving it," he wrote.
"I did not believe I was receiving preferential treatment. None of the other senior leaders identified asked for or were told they were receiving preferential care either."
With files from Sean Kavanagh