Surgeon accused of sexual misconduct, harassing coworkers with amputated toes
A Parry Sound hospital is investigating its chief of surgery, Dr. Bill Smyth, over allegations from six nurses of lewd, bullying behaviour and making crude, sexual gestures with toes amputated from patients.
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The Parry Sound hospital is investigating its chief of surgery over allegations from six nurses of lewd, bullying behaviour and making crude, sexual gestures with a toe he amputated from a patient.
Dr. Bill Smyth, an orthopedic surgeon, is the only one in his specialty within roughly 100 kilometres of the Georgian Bay town best known as the birthplace of hockey legend Bobby Orr.
Nurses at the West Parry Sound Health Centre made complaints about Smyth over the past few months and have raised concerns the hospital is dragging its feet in dealing with their allegations. Approached by the Star on Tuesday, the hospital first refused to comment, then said Wednesday that a “thorough investigation” is underway.
Among the complaints are allegations that in the operating room Smyth has been known to make “honking sounds with his hands towards the scrub nurse’s breasts” while she helps him put on a sterile gown. It is also alleged Smyth “would hit nurses in the back of the head or kick them as he walked by” in the hospital.
In another complaint, a nurse said she felt unsafe when, while alone in a room he walked in and stared at her silently. When she blushed, the nurse alleged Smyth called in another doctor and laughed, pointing out how he had made the nurse “get red for Big Daddy.”
“It’s awful behaviour. It’s not OK,” said one senior nurse. “If we get cultured to believe it is OK to carry on like this then people will be able to do what they want.”
In a statement Wednesday in response to detailed questions from the Star, hospital CEO Donald Sanderson said a probe is underway. “We have engaged significant external, independent expertise in a comprehensive investigation that is ongoing.”
Sanderson would not answer specific questions or make further comment. Among the investigators hired by the hospital is a Toronto lawyer and a retired hospital administrator from Brampton.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has also been provided complaint material by nurses.
Smyth joined the medical team in Parry Sound as an orthopedic surgeon in 2009, and was appointed chief of surgery in 2015.
He came to Parry Sound from the Perth and Smiths Falls area, southwest of Ottawa, after losing his privileges at the hospital there for creating a “poisoned environment” among doctors and nurses, according to an arbitrator’s report.
Perhaps the oddest allegation in Parry Sound deals with what happened during a recent operation to remove a man’s toe. Complaints to the hospital and the college of physicians allege that after removing the toe, Smyth put it between his clenched knuckles, jutting upwards to make the “f--- you” sign to a female nurse. The complaints state that Smyth has told nurses and doctors this is a ritual he has done for many years following toe amputations (for diabetes or other health concerns).
Smyth began his career as a doctor in 1992, after graduating from medical school at Queen’s University. The motorcycle-driving surgeon has become a well-known figure in Parry Sound. This summer he donated his flowing grey hair for a cancer wig. In addition to being chief of surgery, Smyth operates Smyth Medicine, a “family owned” clinic in the hospital. Patients can reach him through his email, “drbonebanger.”
The Star has reviewed complaints made to the hospital by six nurses, including nurses who have had managerial roles, and interviewed nurses who have made allegations. They describe a “sickening” atmosphere in the surgical section of the cottage country medical centre. The nurses requested their names not be used in this story as they fear job reprisals.
Nurses say that Smyth is a bully and can be “threatening.” They say that after an operation he sometimes refuses to pass on key clinical information to other doctors and nurses who take over the patient’s care. “It’s the hospital’s problem, let them figure it out,” one nurse recalls him saying.
In the operating room, nurses say, Smyth has a too-relaxed attitude toward infection control — wearing unlaced workboots with blood spatter from previous operations on them, and drinking coffee in front of patients who have fasted prior to their operation. He has allowed other doctors present in the operating room to eat muffins, chocolate bars or other snacks during an operation, nurses have told the Star, adding that these practices are considered unsanitary.
Nurses have complained about behaviour they consider to be harassment.
During an operation on a female patient who was under general anesthesia awaiting a hip replacement, Smyth is alleged to have sent a young nurse to another room for what he called a “pedonga dilator,” a device that does not exist. When the nurse returned empty-handed, doctors were laughing, including Smyth, according to the complaint. In interviews, nurses said that Smyth uses the word “pedonga” as slang for vagina. Another nurse has complained that Smyth “belittled” her in an operating room to the point that she burst into tears.
According to his website, which has dozens of testimonials signed by initials, Smyth has many supporters.
“We are thankful and just happy we share the planet with such an amazing human,” says one testimonial. Another, “You are totally AWESOME, terrific, great, top notch, and excellent! I am very pleased with my new hip.”
Smyth has not returned calls or responded to detailed emails from the Star setting out the allegations.
Hospital CEO Sanderson told the Star he is not allowed to comment on “matters of a personnel nature.” His hospital is “committed to promoting and maintaining a safe environment for everyone,” Sanderson said.
Some nurses have been reassigned following complaints, while Smyth has kept his position at the hospital.
This is not the first time Smyth has had a run-in with a hospital over his behaviour. He had to leave the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital in 2008 after an arbitrator — the chief of staff at Peterborough Hospital — found “the recurrence of disruptive and aggressive behaviour by Dr. Smyth over a prolonged period of time.”
According to information made public in court when Smyth appealed what he agreed would be binding arbitration, the Perth hospital had for years dealt with allegations of bullying behaviour by the surgeon. Smyth was sent to a conflict resolution program, and made to attend “anger management evaluation.” In addition to his actions toward others, the arbitrator noted that Smyth allegedly would not complete patient charts or provide “on-call services” to the hospital.
Doctors have to apply annually for “privileges” to work at a hospital, and in 2007 his application was denied by the Perth hospital leaders, leading to the arbitration.
The arbitrator’s report found that there was a history dating back to 1999 of Smyth’s “aggressive and destructive behaviour.” Further, the arbitrator noted that “Dr. Smyth’s behaviour has been bullying, obstructive and manipulative” and that he seemed to have no understanding of the impact of his behaviour on colleagues.
“It is clear that Dr. Smyth’s behaviour has had a profound impact on his colleagues, having permanently damaged professional relationships and trust between many of his colleagues and himself. His behaviour has created a poisoned environment which has extended beyond the medical staff to involve the (hospital) board and the community,” the arbitrator, Dr. Peter McLaughlin, ruled.
Offered a chance to resign his privileges and leave the hospital, Smyth opted to fight in court, up to the Ontario Court of Appeal, which was ultimately unsuccessful, and he moved to Parry Sound. The court ruled that Smyth had to pay the hospital’s medical advisory committee $25,000 to cover its costs of fighting the appeal.
Kevin Donovan can be reached at 416-312-3503 or firstname.lastname@example.org