The troubling trend of repeated medical negligence cases involving one B.C. surgeon, and why he’s still allowed to see patients.

Many five-year-olds have suffered from a broken arm and the majority of the time they bounce back after a few miserable weeks in a cast or splint.

But that didn’t happen when Max McKee injured his arm in 2006 after falling from a kitchen cupboard. CBC News reported that McKee was given treatment for his fracture at Langley Memorial Hospital in British Columbia by orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Tracy Eugene Hicks, who failed to correctly fix the bones before putting them in a cast, leaving McKee with a permanent deformity, as reported in the court judgment.

McKee’s right forearm hangs awkwardly from the elbow when he holds his arm out to the side. The now 21-year-old stated to CBC that “The job I’m working right now, as an electrician, I’m constantly twisting my arm, screwing in lightbulbs — anything using a screwdriver, it’s uncomfortable, and on a daily basis,”. Sadly, he said there is nothing he can do to fix it. 

The B.C. Court of Appeal ordered Hicks to pay more than $360,000 in damages earlier this month for his careless handling of McKee’s arm. It was one of two judgments concerning Hicks’s medical malpractice that British Columbian courts issued in the course of only one month. In the second, Hicks was found to have neglected an elderly patient who underwent surgery for a broken hip, leaving her in excruciating discomfort for months.

These charges come after a series of legal accusations of malpractice made throughout Hicks’s career. For decades, patients and their families have voiced worries about Hicks’ continued practice, with one bereaved mother questioning whether his conduct contributed to the death of her daughter.

When she trusted Hicks with her child, McKee’s mother Stacey says she wishes she had been aware of his past. Stacey said that “When you present to a hospital in an emergency situation, you do not get to pick and choose who your doctor is.”

The hospital and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia both have a responsibility to ensure that the individual you are seeing is competent and qualified. Hicks declined to be interviewed for this article through his attorneys, and he didn’t answer to a long list of inquiries concerning his background with regard to claims of carelessness. 

According to court documents, by the time Max McKee arrived at the hospital in 2006, Hicks had already been named as a defendant in more than a dozen cases. That included a case in which he had negligently severed a nerve as big as a spaghetti noodle during knee surgery and had performed unneeded wrist surgery that left a patient with an essentially functionless right hand. 

Seven legal lawsuits against Hicks alleging patient injury have been settled out of court in the past ten years alone by unpublished agreements between the parties. In his responses to the majority of those lawsuits, he refuted any allegations of carelessness and defended his treatment of the patients as reasonable and customary under the circumstances. But in one instance, Hicks acknowledged that in 2016 he gave a woman a hip replacement when she actually required a knee replacement. 

The number of negligence claims against Hicks is higher than usual for an orthopaedic surgeon, according to Susanne Raab, an adjunct professor of law at the University of British Columbia and a medical malpractice attorney at Pacific Medical Law in Vancouver who has never defended or defended Hicks.

Raab said in an email to CBC that there is a gap between a doctor’s competence to practice medicine and court-ordered findings of negligence, with legal fees and damages frequently funded by the Canadian Medical Protection Association. She claimed it is the duty of the college to guarantee that doctors in British Columbia are qualified, competent, and moral. 

According to the college website, Hicks is still a fully licensed doctor in British Columbia with no limitations on his practice, and there are no records of any disciplinary actions. Susan Prins, a spokeswoman for the college, told CBC that Hicks has signed voluntary agreements that limit his practice to helping with surgeries and working in an office. However, it is unclear when he signed the restrictions.

Records provided to CBC show that as a result of Stacey Mckees’ complaint, Hicks was given a formal warning by the institution and required to sign an agreement promising not to fix children’s fractured bones. 

According to an earlier Hospital Appeal Board ruling, Hicks was admitted to the college’s temporary register in 1993 under the condition that he complete psychotherapy and work under the guidance of a mentor. When those limitations were lifted is unclear. Prins clarified that none of those actions satisfy the requirements for public notification under B.C. law. However, a spokeswoman for the health authority stated that he is no longer granted surgical privileges at Langley Memorial or any other hospital in the Fraser Health District. 

Hicks’s history of incompetence was the focus of a front-page expose by Vancouver Sun writer Rick Ouston all the way back in 1992. Hicks declined to participate in an interview for that story as well, but his attorney informed the media that Hicks had over 30,000 procedures and grateful patients under his belt at the time. 

The malpractice attorney Raab made the point that, in addition to the college’s responsibility for public safety, the Department of Health can restrict a doctor’s capacity to practice by revoking hospital privileges.

According to decisions made by the Hospital Appeal Board, Langley Memorial Hospital and Peace Arch Hospital have made numerous attempts to limit Hicks’s privileges over the years, with varying degrees of success. However, the McKees and Adamson agree that all the institutions designed to stop doctors from doing harm have let them down.

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From CBC News