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Beleaguered Windsor hospital's chief of surgery quits

The chief of surgery of a Windsor, Ont., hospital at the centre of a probe into pathology test errors and botched medical procedures is resigning.

Allan Forse said in an interview on Tuesday that he is stepping down as chief of surgery of Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital, effective Aug. 31. He is also medical director of the hospital's trauma and surgical programs.

"I'm leaving this hospital and I'm leaving this community," Dr. Forse said.

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He would not comment on his reasons for leaving. But sources close to the hospital said Dr. Forse's decision to leave after 12 years at Hôtel-Dieu reflects his frustration that the hospital's problems go beyond the pathology area and a now suspended doctor who made a series of diagnostic errors, blamed in part on cataracts that blurred her vision.

Investigators appointed by Health Minister Deb Matthews plan to release a report on Wednesday into their review of pathology tests dating back two years, as well as surgical errors. The report is expected to recommend that the government appoint a facilitator to work with the board of directors and management at Hôtel-Dieu on making improvements, according to one of the sources.

A three-person team of investigators led by Barry McLellan, chief executive officer of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, has spent the past five months reviewing more than 6,000 pathology cases and 130 surgical records for all three hospitals in Windsor.

The problems in Windsor are the latest in a series of events that have raised concerns about the quality of pathology services in Canada. In Quebec, nearly 3,000 breast-cancer patients were retested last year after a study concluded that 39 women got improper treatment, including five who died.

A report last year into Newfoundland and Labrador's breast-cancer-testing scandal found that the health system failed patients at every level after 400 women received incorrect results. And an inquiry into disgraced pathologist Charles Smith concluded in 2008 that his biased and unprofessional testimony precipitated a string of wrongful murder charges and convictions in Ontario.

Anxiety began running high in Windsor in February after Hôtel-Dieu acknowledged that Barbara Heartwell, one of its surgeons, had performed mastectomies on two women who did not have breast cancer. The hospital also said it had launched its own review of 15,000 pathology tests dating back to 2003. The hospital described an "adverse medical event" involving another doctor, Olive Williams, who was suspended in January, but did not elaborate.

Ms. Matthews, the Health Minister, appointed the team of investigators on March 1 to probe pathology test errors and botched medical procedures at the city's three hospitals. Dr. McLellan submitted his report to Ms. Matthews last Friday. Officials in her office declined to comment until the report is released at a news conference in Windsor on Wednesday.

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Hôtel-Dieu spokeswoman Kim Spirou confirmed that Dr. Forse is resigning for what she described as "professional and personal" reasons.

"It's his decision to leave," she said.

Ms. Spirou declined to comment on the investigation itself. As first reported by The Globe and Mail, Dr. Williams, the former pathologist at Hôtel-Dieu, allegedly made six mistakes on tests she conducted at all three Windsor hospitals. Hôtel-Dieu said it caught four of the errors before any harm was done.

But one patient had an unnecessary colostomy and another had an incorrect lumpectomy.

The hospital attributes the errors in part to what it called a "physical issue" with Dr. Williams - the cataracts, said an internal report obtained by the Ontario Progressive Conservatives through a freedom of information request.

The hospital suspended Dr. Williams on Jan. 4. She could not be reached for comment. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is investigating both Dr. Williams and Dr. Heartwell.

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