Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad

Doctor fired after licence suspended

Andrew Raven
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 05/04) - A Yellowknife family physician has been fired amid allegations he breached patient confidentiality, had an improper relationship with a 17-year-old girl, and that he was in possession of child pornography.

Richard Bargen, 56, was let go by Yellowknife Health and Social Services (YKHSS) on Feb. 13, said CEO Gregory Cummings.

On Feb. 5, Health Minister Michael Miltenberger suspended Bargen's licence to practice medicine for six weeks, pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

Bargen, hired in November 2003 by YKHSS, is the former Chief Medical Health Officer of Nunavut and has also practised medicine in Nevada.

According to court documents -- filed after Bargen challenged his licence suspension in NWT Supreme Court -- Cummings received a complaint the doctor released confidential information about a patient in Stanton Hospital.

According to the Cummings affidavit, Bargen contacted an emergency room physician for an update on the patient's case and then passed that information on to a member of the public who wasn't related to the patient.

"It is apparent you have breached clause 9 (2) of your contract by reason of your intentional disclosure of confidential patient information," wrote Cummings in letter dated Feb. 5.

Bargen admitted to the breach of doctor patient-privilege in a sworn affidavit. It was "unique to this situation," he said.

"Any disclosure of health information was an isolated incident," he said in the affidavit.

Bargen said he was prepared to "accept the consequences" of the disclosure following a full hearing.

Court documents also outlined a relationship between Bargen and a 17-year-old Yellowknife girl.

In his sworn affidavit, Cummings said Bargen took the girl on business trips to Ottawa and Winnipeg where the two shared a hotel room.

In his own court filings, Bargen vigorously denied having an improper relationship with the 17-year-old, who he met late last year.

"The relationship is purely platonic," he said in a sworn affidavit.

"(It is) one of friendship and guidance, which I am providing to a girl who has no father in her life. That is all."

The person who originally lodged the complaints during meetings with top health officials on Jan. 16 and 22 also said Bargen had child pornography in his briefcase, Cummings swore in an affidavit.

Bargen, who passed a criminal records check when he was hired by YKHSS, emphatically denied the pornography accusation in court documents.

"I state categorically that I do not, and have never had pictures of naked children or any other pornographic materials in my briefcase or otherwise in my possession," Bargen said.

On Thursday, Cummings wouldn't say if Bargen was fired solely for releasing the confidential information or if the other allegations led to his dismissal.

"I'm not sure it would be appropriate to comment on the specifics of the decision at this point," he said.

Bargen challenged Miltenberger's decision to suspend his licence last month in Supreme Court.

Justice Ted Richard ruled Feb. 17 that the suspension would stand. "The applicant has not satisfied me that the Minister acted unreasonably or made an unreasonable decision," said Richard in his written judgment.

"The Minister had before him allegations of serious improper conduct including breach of patient confidentiality, possession of child pornography and involvement with a 17-year-old girl."

Investigation underway

The unproven allegations are being investigated by Dr. Martin Atkinson, president of the Medical Board in Enquiry in Calgary, said health department spokesperson Bronwyn Watters.

She added Miltenberger will base his decision on whether Bargen will keep his licence on those findings.

Before moving to Nunavut, Bargen practised medicine in Nevada where he has no disciplinary actions on his record. His licence, which was granted in 1979, is still active according to the State of Nevada Board of Medical Examiners.

Efforts to contact Bargen and his attorney were unsuccessful. Staff at the Fraser Tower Suites, Bargen's address on court documents, say he has been gone for about a month.