Shift cutback impacted second-home ownership, MD says

Shift cutback impacted second-home ownership, MD says

An abortion doctor who alleges he was the target of a campaign to force him out of the Women’s Health Clinic complained that a reduction in his shifts made it difficult to maintain his second home, court was told Tuesday.

Dr. Ken Hahlweg, who made headlines in 2021 after he saved a nursing supervisor from being stabbed to death inside Seven Oaks General Hospital, is suing the Winnipeg clinic, alleging he was terminated without cause in 2020.

According to a statement of claim that forms the basis of his lawsuit, the 2010 contract Hahlweg signed as an independent contractor included an agreement the clinic would schedule his shifts (or “slates”) and would not reduce or change them without consulting him.

Dr. Ken Hahlweg (John Woods / Free Press files)
Dr. Ken Hahlweg (John Woods / Free Press files)

Beginning in 2016, the lawsuit alleges, the clinic started “unilaterally” reducing his slates, from 52 a year to 26 in 2020.

The clinic’s funding allowed for two slates of abortions each week, former executive director Nadine Sookermany testified Tuesday. Slates were adjusted to accommodate the outside work needs of the clinic’s four abortion doctors, as well as training and “succession planning” issues, she said.

Hahlweg was alone among the abortion doctors to complain about the slate changes, Sookermany said.

“Dr. Hahlweg raised this concern at multiple times,” Sookermany told court, testifying via video from Toronto, where she now lives and works.

At one 2020 meeting, “he shared with me that the reallocation of the slates or rescheduling impacted his ability to maintain his second home, which was a bit shocking for me to hear,” Sookermany said. “And then he repeated that at another meeting.”

In the spring of 2019, shortly after the clinic hired a new administrative lead for the abortion program, Sookermany and abortion clinic medical director Nadin Gilroy met with Hahlweg after he complained about a “state of chaos” in the program.

Sookermany said Hahlweg raised concerns, based on second-hand information, that the program lead was “in over her head” and that there was a “lack of confidence in her ability as a nurse.”

Sookermany described the woman as “cheerful, upbeat and professional,” and said she had no concerns about her qualifications for the position.

“In the very beginning, folks in the program thought she was wonderful,” she said. “It changed very quickly, and it was odd from where I was sitting.”

Sookermany said she encouraged Hahlweg “to not engage in second-hand information, and that anything he brought us was to be first-hand witnessed by him.”

In separate communications, a nurse at the abortion clinic urged Sookermany to hire someone else and “cut your losses while you can.”

A short time later, Gilroy, in an email to Sookermany, said Hahlweg disclosed he had been the new team lead’s physician.

“This was very worrisome,” she said. “As her physician, he may have access to information that could get in the way of their working relationship.”

The team lead provided Sookermany with documentation on May 22, 2019, outlining her experiences with Hahlweg and alleged violations of the clinic’s respectful workplace policy “with very specific examples.”

Sookermany testified Hahlweg later refused to sign a copy of the policy to acknowledge he had read it, saying it did not apply to him.

Sookermany said Hahlweg and a clinic nurse raised concerns about inaccurate narcotic counts. Sookermany said an investigation determined discrepancies in accounting procedures and vial sizes were to blame.

In a September 2019 email to Gilroy with the subject line “smoking gun,” Hahlweg passed along the claim of a nurse who said she saw a tourniquet and empty vials of naloxone in the program lead’s office.

“It was highly irregular, and again against our advice to Dr. Hahlweg,” Sookermany said.

Sookermany said an investigation determined the naloxone vials were not empty and had been placed in the woman’s office.

“It was confirmed (the allegations) did not have any credibility,” she said.

Dean Pritchard

Dean Pritchard

Courts reporter

Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.

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