Dr. Gabrielle Horne (CBC)

Let’s begin with what we don’t know. We don’t know when the province’s court of appeals, which held a hearing earlier this month, will rule on a Nova Scotia Health Authority appeal of a judgment against it in the case of cardiologist Dr. Gabrielle Horne.

We do know about that infamous case.

On October 17, 2002, the then-Capital District Health Authority informed Horne — Dalhousie’s first female MD/PhD in adult cardiology, the director of the QEII Health Sciences Centre’s internationally recognized cardiac imaging lab, the recipient of a $450,000 Clinical Scholar Award to help fund her research, winner of a faculty of medicine “teacher of the year” award, and winner of a department of medicine research excellence award — that it was suspending her critical-to-her-research, critical-to-her-ability-to-practise-medicine hospital privileges unilaterally and without even a hearing “in view of the concern for patient safety.”

That wasn’t true at all. Horne was simply being bullied by senior male colleagues who wanted their names on her research, and the hospital administration was aiding and abetting their bad behaviour.

It took Horne four years and $167,000 to get her privileges back — during which time she lost another $852,000 in compensation — and then another 10 years and $843,087.50 in legal fees, not to mention a 33-day trial, before a jury finally awarded her $1.4 million — the largest such award in Canadian legal history — for the damage the authority had capriciously wreaked on her reputation.

Unwilling to accept reality, the Nova Scotia Health Authority ­— successor to the capital district authority — dug into its bottomless, pitiless pit of public funds and appealed the decision. During the two-day hearing, the authority’s lawyers argued the court should order a new trial — more legal fees! — or, at the very least, reduce the jury’s award to Horne, which was already (thanks to the trial judge’s instructions to the jury) handed her considerably less than the $10.4 million Horne had been seeking to help re-start her research lab.

So, while we don’t know when the appeal court will render its verdict or what it will be, we now know Horne had to spend yet another $300,000-plus in legal costs to mount this fall’s appeal.

If you’re counting — and you should be — that means Horne’s personal costs-to date to defend her reputation have been close to $2-million! (The jury did award her some of her previous legal costs, but that is part of what the health authority wants to take away.)

Let’s come back to that.

There’s something else we don’t know for certain — because the health authority won’t tell us — but which we can certainly infer, based on the years that have passed and the billable hours some of Halifax’s most expensive lawyers have billed the authority in this case.

How much do you imagine that you and I, as taxpayers, have shelled out so far to try to destroy the reputation and career of a world-recognized medical researcher?

“I’m guessing upward of $10-million,” suggests Dr. Ken West, the president of the health authority’s medical staff association. West says a previous association president saw a 2012 document, which estimated the bill to that point for Horne’s case and two other, lower profile privileges cases had already topped $8-million.

Imagine how much actual health care $10-million could have bought!

And then, since we’re imagining, let’s ask ourselves this hypothetical. How many of us would have had either the financial resources or the physical and psychological stamina to withstand years of administrative and legal bullying to defend our name and reputation?

Let’s hope the appeal court panel recognizes the clear will of ordinary Nova Scotians — as expressed in the jury’s verdict last year — and dismisses the authority’s appeal, hopefully with some harsh words for wasting the court’s time and the taxpayers’ dollars.

And then let’s hope the health authority gets the message.

If it doesn’t, it’s up to Stephen McNeil’s government to deliver that message loudly and clearly: stop the legal bullying and spend our scarce health care resources where they need to be spent — on real health care.

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A journalist for more than 50 years whose work has appeared in most Canadian newspapers and magazines, he is the author of...

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  1. Is Dr. Horne still practicing here? I can’t imagine why after being treated like this.

    This is just another good reason why we need to open the NSHA to a proper and thorough audit for the way it manages public health care – including how it spends our money. I suspect successive governments (including the current one) are scared of it.

    Send in the Auditor General!

    1. She is still practising, yes! And I totally agree with your audit idea. I’ve worked here for quite a while, and there are major bone-headed decisions that cost us a ton of money, annually. Not to mention things that should have been done ages ago, but no one wants to get off their butts to do it. Somebody has to take a long look at senior administrators and management and try to find out what value they return to this organisation/province, not only from a corporate perspective, but from a patient-management perspective.

      I think most Nova Scotians would be shocked to see just how little is done by those positions.

      The good news is that I think the AG has more interest in how NSHA is run. The last AG report on the NSHA and it’s failure to meet agreed-upon targets really highlighted how more needs to be done all up in here.


    What has happened to Dr. Horne leads one to rework Einstein’s famous observation about the infinity of the universe and human stupidity. To wit: There are only two things that are infinite, the universe and the fragility of the male ego–and we can’t be sure about the universe.

  3. We shouldn’t stand by our mistakes just because they cost a lot of money and we spent a long time making them.

    This seems to be a lesson that government in Nova Scotia has difficulty learning.

    1. It’s an especially galling example of the sunk cost fallacy. Doubling down on money that shouldn’t have been spent in the first place. It’s an old boy’s network specialty.