Miramichi surgeon suspended for 'improper relationship' with former patient

A surgeon in Miramichi has been suspended for one year for having an "improper relationship" with a former patient, says the registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick.

Dr. Alexandre Lubin, 58, pleaded guilty to professional misconduct following a complaint by the woman earlier this year, college registrar Dr. Ed Schollenberg told CBC News.

The complainant alleged there was "sexual contact" on two occasions, said Schollenberg.

Lubin "doesn't expressly admit to the fact that there was sexual contact," but does admit to having interactions that "crossed professional boundaries," he said.

Lubin could not be reached for comment Tuesday, after his suspension was announced.

His office voicemail indicates the office is closed "until further notice" and directs patients to call their family physician, the emergency department or Tele-Care for medical advice. The message also indicates that the voicemail will not be monitored.

Lubin's suspension took effect on Friday, Nov. 29, after the provincial regulatory body met to discuss the appropriate sanction.

It followed news of disciplinary action against another New Brunswick doctor for making "sexually motivated" online comments to a police officer posing as a 13-year-old girl in the United Kingdom.

Dr. Hafeez Awan, 44, a family doctor in Saint John, has been suspended from practising in the province for nine months after a medical tribunal in the U.K. found him guilty Nov. 15 of misconduct and suspended him for nine months. The communications occurred in January 2016, when Awan worked in Leeds and Wakefield.

Despite the back-to-back disciplinary announcements, Schollenberg said patients shouldn't be worried.

"I don't think there's any significant concern," he said. "These just happened to occur at the same time out of total coincidence."

Both cases were "outside of practice activity, if that's any reassurance. We have no reason to believe that there's any other concerns that would arise in the course of a practice. But patients will obviously want to make their own decisions."

Off work since May

Lubin, who graduated from medical school in Puebla, Mexico, in 1989, has been a general surgeon in Miramichi since 2005.

The complainant saw him for consultation "for some period of time," said Schollenberg.

She alleged Lubin subsequently asked her to terminate the doctor-patient relationship "so they could pursue some other kind of relationship more personally," he said. Lubin denies the allegation, said Schollenberg.

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The college did a preliminary investigation and forwarded the complaint to Lubin in May, said Schollenberg.

Lubin has not returned to his practice since then "for a variety of reasons," he said without elaborating.

Asked why it took until Friday for the college to impose the sanction, Schollenberg said the parties were trying to reach an agreement — "as opposed to going into a full-blown hearing and submitting the complainant to a public hearing."

In the interim, Lubin took a professional "boundary course" of his own volition, the college official added. The course is often part of an imposed sanction for doctors, "just to make sure they understand what's acceptable and what isn't" when it comes to patients.

Lubin had no previous disciplinary action against him, said Schollenberg.

'Ratcheted up' penalties in some provinces

The registrar acknowledged there's a wide range of opinions about the appropriate sanctions in such a case and that a one-year suspension might not seem harsh enough to some people.

But "for any physician, any suspension is significant," he said.

The regulatory bodies in some provinces have harsher penalties than New Brunswick, while others are less severe.

"There's been a trend in some provinces that are particularly troubled by this supposed behaviour that they have ratcheted up their penalties quite a bit," said Schollenberg, who added: "We haven't seen that kind of a need for that yet."

Perhaps the physicians will want to take a different approach to some of their interactions with patients. - Ed Schollenberg, College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick registrar

There are no plans to have either Lubin or Awan under any supervision when they return to practise, he said.

"When we've had similar matters, we are pretty sure that all lessons to be learned have been learned. And I wouldn't think there's any reason to be careful, but perhaps the physicians will want to take a different approach to some of their interactions with patients."

Schollenberg doesn't think any changes in screening of foreign-trained doctors are required either.

He noted Lubin has practised in the province for 15 years with no indication of any issues before he arrived. The issue with Awan, which dated back to January 2016, only arose after he had already set up a practice in Saint John in October 2017.

"So he came here, said he had a clear record. We checked that with the British authorities, his record was clear. I'm not sure what more we can do."

2 other surgeons maintain services

Horizon Health Network "fully supports" the college's decision regarding Lubin, Dr. Edouard Hendriks, vice-president of medical, academic and research affairs, said in an emailed statement.

The regional health authority is working to fill Lubin's position during his suspension, but thanks the two other surgeons at the Miramichi Regional Hospital who are maintaining surgical services, said Hendriks.

"We have seen an increase in endoscopy wait times," he said, without elaborating, "but have attempted to address this by reallocating local resources."

There has been no interruption of emergency or on-call general surgery service, he added.