Toronto doctor faces sanctions for helping poor
Dubbed the “Robin Hood Doctor” by many of his patients, Wong has declared in his own defense that his diagnoses and medical assistance to the poor were entirely consistent with his Hippocratic oath and the information provided to him by his patients. The case and Wong’s steadfast defense of his actions have highlighted the abysmal conditions of poverty inflicted on hundreds of thousands of Ontario residents and the provincial government’s ongoing austerity program directed against the working class.
Currently, a single person on social welfare in Ontario receives $591 per month. With low-rent districts charging an average of $400 per month for a room and monthly public transportation costs often amounting to $100, little money is left to buy nutritional food, let alone other basic essentials. About 900,000 people in Ontario today receive social welfare or disability benefits (disabled individuals can receive up to $930 per month). Not surprisingly, study after study shows that this social layer suffers the worst health-related outcomes in the province.
A little-advertised provision in social assistance regulations allows for doctors to authorize a “special dietary supplement,” which in some cases could amount to $250 per month, for recipients who exhibit a number of health conditions that include not only serious illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes but also allergies to certain foods, chronic constipation, osteoporosis, gum disease, bad teeth and other afflictions. In 2003, less than $6 million per year was dispensed by the Ontario government for the special dietary allowance.
When, in that same year, the Liberal government of former premier Dalton McGuinty succeeded the Conservatives (who had cut welfare rates by 22%), attacks on social assistance recipients continued. Increases in already substandard welfare payments were consistently pegged well below the annual inflation rate.
Alarmed by the fact that an increasing number of impoverished people were actually applying for and receiving the special dietary allowances, the Liberal government abruptly announced in 2010 that it would abolish the program. However, in the face of a significant backlash against this attack on the most vulnerable of citizens and an anti-discrimination ruling against the government at a Human Rights Tribunal, the Liberals in 2011 instead passed legislation revamping the program. These “reforms” considerably reduced the list of afflictions eligible for financial relief, forced all recipients to reapply for the program and threw previous recipients off the rolls.
At the same time, then right-wing Toronto city councilor Rob Ford (now mayor) filed a complaint against Wong with the College of Physicians. When Wong’s case was finally heard last winter, the College found that Wong had not maintained proper records of his examinations, had largely relied upon information provided by his patients and had not referred them for enough testing before issuing his diagnoses. The College found no evidence of lack of medical knowledge or skill. A police investigation found no evidence of fraud.
The sanctions to be applied against Wong by the College are expected to be announced next month.