Hamilton Spectator publishes scathing feature story on Joseph Brant Hospital

By Pepper Parr

March 20th, 2023



How does a city respond to a front page story on the local hospital that takes up an additional four pages of news – none of it good?

What do you do with a headline that reads: “If you’re dying don’t come here”?

Burlington’s Mayor is usually one of the first to respond when there is an issue. Before becoming Mayor Marianne Meed Ward served as the city’s representative on the hospital board and spoke very positively about the way the hospital board worked – at one point saying that they were a model she wished Burlington could follow.

No response from the Mayor so far on the Spectator reporting.

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18 comments to Hamilton Spectator publishes scathing feature story on Joseph Brant Hospital

  • Ted Gamble

    I debated sharing these very personal details however I think it is important to do so. My mother was hospitalized in 2009 for moderately low oxygen levels due to reparatory issues. She was on a ridiculous level of prednisone for her weight/size. I was unable to convince staff to quickly reduce it. I received a call after two weeks of hospitalization and coldly told that my mom had contracted a secondary infection, C-diff. The recommendation was to do nothing. I was told wecould seek a second opinion. My dad and I immediately went to the hospital. We were put in the position of taking an decision tooperate or not. We were obviously in shock and opted for surgery. It was necessary for the surgeon to remove 100% of my moms colon. After ventilators, ICU and a limited, stalled, recovery my mom succumbed two weeks later at JBH .

    In 2011 my dad with a history of prostate issues and mild COPD was admitted twice to JBH. In retrospect JBH apparently was not able to discern after two hospitalizations that his delirium and issues were due to an inability to properly void his bladder. After the second release, they practically forced him out he was unstable almost immediately. The medical staff at the Burlington retirement home and his GP pleaded with me not to return him to JBH. I ambulated him myself the next morning to Oakville Trafalgar where I was told off for transporting him myself. Within three weeks of outstanding analysis and care he moved into recovery.

    Eighteen months ago I had a routine (so I thought) isotope stress at JBH. It took almost three months for the test result to be forwarded to my GP. There was an indication and a follow up was needed.. We decided on an angiogram. I received a call almost immediately with a cancellation from the Hamilton General. I was perplexed. After three weeks of thinners I received angioplasty of the LAD (widow maker) and two other arteries were blasted. I had called Hamilton Health after the angiogram to thank them and ask why I was picked for the cancellation. Their response we score and rank the stress tests with a provincial software program. I guess I scored well. I later quizzed my GP on why JBH who has the testing equipment have a seeming inability or do not interpret the tests and why it took three months to get the results over. No answer.

    I confronted Eric one on one, some years ago about why doctors, CCAC, and Directors of Care had told myself and area residents not to send seniors to JBH. He responded he was aware of this and that was why he was there…….go figure.

    I would not take my dead or dying dog to this hospital. It seems not much as changed in ten years and the situation has and will only worsen. I will take my chances and roll the dice elsewhere and advise others to do the same.

  • Cosmo

    I was on staff at JBH for more than 17 years. I have witnessed and received both exemplary and substandard care at JBH. I have also received substandard care at Oakville Trafalgar Hospital resulting in the loss of my eye.
    I believe this to be a system wide problem, not isolated to one hospital. In my opinion we need to have accountability in how our healthcare dollars are spent. Stop paying hospital CEO’s ridiculously high salaries and adding more administrative rolls. Stop building new hospitals with huge foyers and glass atriums that serve little purpose other than to look pretty. Instead let’s spend those dollars in front line care, in staff training, discharge care, and upgrading hospital systems.

  • Michael Hribljan

    The talk around town is avoid JBH if you can. We had a poor/awful experience with my father at JBH during his treatment for cancer ranging from laying in ER for 1 to 3 days before a room became available, nurses missing doctors instructions requiring my mother to be there everyday to ensure what was directed by the doctor was actually happening, to a nurse trying to talk my father out of an expensive cancer drug which he had insurance for! Doctors were great when you got their attention, staff is overworked and in some cases moral is low.

    I read the article referenced by Lynn, and I have often felt the CEO and board model is an issue, it creates a silo in our health care system, and once you are in one of those silo’s there is little desire by those in it to look outside of that silo if capacity exists elsewhere as funding is tied to the patient.

    I was born at JBH, as well as my wife, son, brothers, nephew and niece. This is long ago, and things change overtime. There are certainly good experiences, but there are to many bad experiences to be ignored or glossed over.

    Which leads me to my final thought, why does the hospital not issue a satisfaction survey to its “customers”? Every business today does this – most/all modern private sector CEO’s would not want to run a business without this data.

  • Dave Turner

    I am sad that those here who have had bad experiences had those bad experiences.

    In my opinion not one doctor, nurse, support worker, or management/administration staff member has any intention other than to provide the best care possible aiming for the best possible outcomes.

    Blair Smith, Lynn Crosby have both mentioned that JBH holds fund raising activities. No one seems to question why is there a need for this hospital or any other hospital in Ontario to conduct fund raising. All hospitals do it.

    Healthcare, including hospital operations are supposed to be funded by the Provincial government in partnership with the federal government.

    If you wish to see a first class hospital in Burlington it needs to be fully funded by governments. That though means taxpayer dollars. Are you prepared to pay more? I am?

    Put pressure on Ford to fully fund Ontario hospitals including paying nurses what they are worth and what they deserve. Maybe with less pressure on the medical staff, mistakes won’t happen.

    • Blair Smith

      Mr. Turner:

      The following is a response that I made to a recent article by Ray Rivers. Ray’s subject was ‘the starvation of our health care system’. As you will see, I am of a somewhat different opinion. I believe that there is enough funding – it needs to be more effectively focused and used. It requires what used to be called a “paradigm shift”. At the end of the day, How much more can we afford to spend on an arcane system that I believe is completely broken.

      “Well argued Ray. I agree with most of your conclusions on where our health care system is headed and the motives behind. However, I differ on many of your observations, particularly as they relate to decades of provincial health care funding.

      When I retired at the end of 2007, the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care comprised over 42% of the provincial budget and, unlike all other ministries, experienced an increase in funding of about 8% year over year. Every other program might experience a one-time increase in budget relative to the government’s policy agenda of the day but, normally, would be expected to constrain discretionary funding by 2 to 5% each year. The constraints experienced by programs such as transportation, natural resources, labour, community and social services, colleges and universities, correctional services and energy were largely to accommodate an annual increase in health care (and frequently education) costs.

      There are many critical flaws in the current provincial policy formulation, funding and operational health care models; the most destructive, I believe, is that the system is hospital rather than patient centric. It tends to focus on the institutions and their infrastructure with deliverables and outcomes that are skewed to and reward the status quo or, at best, posit an uneasy truce with necessary change. The senior ranks of the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care is populated by administrators – many drawn from the ranks of hospital CEO’s and Chiefs of Staff. Indeed, even the current Secretary of Cabinet, the Premier’s Deputy Minister and head of the Civil Service, is a past hospital CEO. There was, and I would argue still is, a tendency to protect the relative autonomy of the inter-dependent but still largely separate fiefdoms that comprise our health care network.

      In short, there is an inertia in the system; advances in health care technology and science are seldom matched by corresponding or equal advances in patient care. Patient-focused perspectives have been slow to change in what is a closed system with senior staff turnover and renewal that is below that of private sector or other public sector institutions. The CEO of our local hospital, for example, told me in 2015 that he “was brought in to turn the hospital around”. He had already been there for six years at that point and is still there eight years later. Has the hospital been turned around? I think we have a hung jury there at best. It is easier to reach consensus that the length of Vandewall’s sinecure is unusual by most standards in other public sector functions and in the private sector. His example is, unfortunately, neither isolated nor atypical in health services. It is no surprise then that the system, overall, is neither nimble nor free of an ingrained complacency.

      In terms of availability and access, I would argue that our “universal” health care system ceased to exist some time ago. Will Doug Ford be its final executioner – most possibly. But I find it hard to shed a tear.”

      • My career was in hospital administration. It covered every aspect from emergency med to palliative care. I believed that hospital mostly did its best to have the patient at its cenre until early 90s I don’t know why but introduction of Risk Management and Hospital foundation saw a huge change and my efforts to speak out saw me eventually have to retire on disability. You make a lot of sense, especially after having an elderly mom go through several of the Halton system hospitals, and dying how she did at JB with Eric and his predecessor refusing accountability for those who follow. I sincerely hope this does not end here as the tragedies will continue and those who believe they are hearing from a bunch of whiners rather than speaking from well evidenced tragic experience may well wished they had listened.

  • Fred Crockett

    I have had no experiences with the Palliative Care people, and my own times at Joseph Brant have been fine, but a few years ago, a friend was hospitalized with intestinal issues. As I entered her room to visit, a disheveled man with a scruffy beard and no identification was berating her about her diet. I was concerned that he may be a full “bells and whistles” nutter, and was about to call 911 and sprint to the Nursing Section, when he identified himself as Doctor Whomever. I thanked him for his attendance and firmly asked that he leave. I was 6 inches taller and 75 pounds heavier than this “Doctor”. He acquiesced and left. The Nursing Station advised me that he was indeed a legitimate doctor, but both staff members winced…..

  • Lynn Crosby

    I too have a nightmare story from JBH, from August 2014. I’ll never forget the horrible six days of “care” my dad received, nor get over how his life ended because of it. I agree with Ted Gamble that the issue isn’t solely related to palliative care either.

    Dave Turner: you haven’t read the article, yet you decide it’s a matter of a journalist “whining”? What an insult to the many many families who are quoted and pictured in the story, and to their loved ones who died in circumstances that they feel were neglectful and inhumane. It is THEIR story. Have a look at the comments on the on-line version of the articles and you’ll see many many many more. How nice for you that you don’t have a personal hellish experience with JBH. But far too many people do, have for decades, and it’s not ok that it never improves, and that the same CEO/President remains in his job, having done nothing to improve the situation for his 14 year tenure.

    Our politicians love their We Love our Hospital signs. Their silence with respect to this huge front-page article, continuing on four full pages inside, is deafening but hardly surprising.

  • Penny Hersh

    I have had both good and bad experiences at Joseph Brant Hospital. I have met some excellent physicians and staff, however it seems to be a hit or miss encounter.

    In this day and age of computerization physicians at Joseph Brant Hospital are still handwriting their patients charts which then have to be transcribed and placed in the patients’ charts. Today I was told that the computer system in the ambulatory care clinics is over 20 years old, that in fact as a resident that was what they were trained on. It is basically not being used. The monitor sits in the room but that is about it.

    In the Juravinski the physicians can record their patients information by voice. It is then automatically sent electronically to all departments and into the patient’s chart that can accessed by all departments.

    The only department in Joseph Brant Hospital that has the ability to do this is if a patient is being referred to the Cancer Clinic. That clinic in the hospital is the only one that links directly to Hamilton’s computer system and even then the physician has to log out of JBH computer system and log into the Juravinski’s computer systems to access the information.

    Today I had 2 appointments scheduled one hour apart and I had to register twice. Obviously the computer system in Joseph Brant Hospital does not link with any of their departments.. What a waste of employee time, paper, and money. How many times do I have to answer in one day if I have had any Covid symptoms etc.

    Everywhere you look on the walls of the ambulatory care clinics are huge signs telling patients to register online ( to save time) using the Convey Application. Well it doesn’t work. When I tried to use it I ended up calling the Ambulatory Care Booking desk who told me after I explained that I had tried to register online ” don’t use the app it doesn’t work. We have been asking administration to get rid of this”.

    I emailed Councillor Bentivegna, who sits on the board of the hospital as the liaison for council if he would look into this. He forwarded my email to Joseph Brant Hospital and I received an email from the hospital indicating that they would look into this. I will probably get some longwinded email telling me they have a committee looking into this and have never realized there is a problem with this application.

    In the past I received emails telling me about an appointment I was to have 2 days later. Thankfully I had called directly to the ambulatory care clinics myself and knew about the appointment. I had never been called. The same thing happened just last week and that was one of the reasons I had called the clinic directly and was told not to use the Convey Application.

    When Eric Vandewall came to speak to our group concerning their 3 year strategy plan for the hospital ( thought 5 year plan was more typical) I asked the question about the computer system in the hospital and he admitted that it did not have the capability of linking up with the Hamilton Hospitals, but never mentioned that it didn’t even link up with the departments at JBH. He also indicated that they were looking into what system to purchase ( translated this means there is NO money). It should be a no brainer – we need our system to link up with all the hospitals in Hamilton as that is where most Burlington patients end up going for any major surgeries as well as radiation clinics etc.

    There are little kudos in fundraising for a solid computer system, but in this day and age this is 100% essential.

    No doubt some people have had positive outcomes at the Joseph Brant Hospital, but it is not the case for everyone. According to a lawyer who practices out of Toronto and works with hospitals Joseph Brant Hospital has a terrible reputation.

    It is telling when a paramedic told us that he wanted to have NOT JOSEPH BRANT HOSPITAL tattooed on his chest in the event that he needed hospitalization and was unable to speak.

  • Ted Gamble

    Based on my own personal tragic experiences involving both of my parents and Joseph Brant Hospital this title is an accurate assessment and not solely related to palliative care. Doctors, Directors of Care and CCAC ten years ago recommended to me not to take elderly citizens there. Regrettably it appears that the situtaion hasxnot changed and indeed has probably worsened.

    • 2006 a relative was sent to ER for one 60 MG dose of Lasix,her doctor’s order for CHF and return home. She was assured by family she would be home that evening. She was admitted without consent from the ER no matter how hard we tried to have her discharged she remained in the hospital. Her chart shows she was given 6 times her doctor ordered Lasix that was reduced, not stopped as it should have been too late after testing showed the expected renal failure. Next came the Cdiff symptoms x multiple that Director of Nursing told ONA she did not suffer from contravening the position of Deputy Chief Coroner that she did after we finally got access we had been refused for years..

      We sought help from Marianne Meed Ward when she was appointed member of Board by province to expose the truth about how the cdiff was enabled to take out numerous healthy individuals going in for surgeries when they knew they were dealing with an unreported outbreak. A Judicial Review got us the evidence but not the accountability.

      The post reporter who became Rick Goldrng’s assistant never did cover the 2014 election story Skeletons in the Closet related to MMW knowledge of what occurred. JBH STILL HOLDS Record of HIGHEST NUMBER OF OUTBREAK DEATHS IN ONTARIO 91÷ most of which were avoidable if they had just given patients their right to consent to admission knowing what senior admin and medical staff knew but kept quiet about for nine months. Will the truth ever be investigated for a hospital where a Deputy Chief and then Chief of Police Sat on the Board,not in our lifetime we would say but maybe after we are long gone and we get those speaking publicly about their JBH experiences in a manner that leaves no doubt that there is more than a inkling of truth in four pages of well documented issues in the Spec that isn’t close to the full horrific stories of patients and their families that need to be heard.

  • Blair Smith

    My wife was misdiagnosed in June 2014 at the Jo Brant Emergency. Through a very long summer of contributing and compounding medical blunders, she was finally seen by a Hamilton neurosurgeon in November 2014. The surgeon, since the subject of another Spectator exposé, operated within 2 days of the visit to relieve the nerve bundle at the base of my wife’s spine. The surgery did not hold and by December we knew that it had been unsuccessful. My wife started having excruciating back pain and we went through over six months of bureaucratic cover-ups and institutional indifference.

    All this time, my wife was suffering greatly and the nerves in her back were dying. On March 31, 2015, I met with Eric Vandewall, CEO of the Jo Brant Hospital, to review my wife’s case and initiate an internal review of his Emergency Department, a local urologist and the hospital radiologist. At this point, Vandewall had been with the hospital for six years, a fact that I did not know at the time. He informed me that he was “brought in to turn the hospital around”. Obviously, he felt no sense of urgency in the mission. I was also unaware that despite over twenty hours of back surgery to follow, the damage had been done and my wife’s back was beyond repair.

    Today she requires special lift devices to transition from bed to chair to toilet to wheelchair, has a permanent catheter requiring regular nursing care, has had multiple surgeries and procedures, has suffered from sepsis on three occasions, almost dying twice, and has spent extended periods in hospital. She has no quality of life and soon she will be placed in institutional care. In almost every aspect, our life has been totally compromised. And all because of the total incompetence of one hospital, that apparently continues to this day, then the toxic environment, cover-ups and bureaucratic indifference within yet another.

    And still Eric Vandewall heads the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital, absolutely failing in my opinion (and direct experience) to instill a true patient-centric culture of caring in the institution. Instead, we have cute slogans, apparently endless fund-raising campaigns and two walls of donors on which Burlington’s prominent citizens, including our Mayor, are proudly featured.

    Where is the outrage at the continued mishaps experienced by those unlucky enough to fall within the hospital’s catchment area? Where is the recognition, as one paramedic expressed to me, that things are seriously amiss at “the mistake by the lake”? In my opinion, a series of logical outcomes should follow the Spectator article. The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care should initiate an immediate investigation, both current and forensic. The local MPP, Natalie Pierre, should be engaged and active in ensuring that accountability is finally brought to bear. And our Mayor, past member of the Jo Brant Board and $10,000+ donor, should be demanding the immediate resignation of Eric Vandewall.

    • Thanks for sharing Blair I have had a tough winter affecting the independence I have fought hard to maintain since born with a significant disability
      Thank God for the good man by my side who never saw the disability but ensured my path was clear of any obstacles.. My heartaches for those like your wife and her family who knew total independence until those we go to for healing and comfort screw things up and avoid accountability that should ensure it never happens to someone else. So much harder. It must stop.

  • Pamela Cowan

    You need to dig deeper into this issue as its never been fully dealt with.
    If she was a board member then she is more than aware of how and why people are treated at JBH on this issue. Its very easy to translate this into her protecting her own interests. Wonder how she sleeps at night.

  • Charles Zach

    Ontario hospitals are all worse than they were before and not getting better. This reality is now a well known fact by area residents and people who have received patient care there – especially in Joseph Brant. I have my own personal stories as do many disappointed Burlingtonians. It’s time to open up an alternative private health system to give patients a choice and create healthy competition in the health care system. Monopolies are always a disappointment because they are unaccountable.

    • Lynn Crosby

      Health care is a human right and should never be about competition nor profits. We should all be screaming from the rafters for proper funding for public health care for all before we lose it.

      This excellent recent article argues the point that Ontario needs to “break down the silos in hospital management” – get rid of the current administration system of volunteer boards and individual CEOs and get the Ministry to run the hospitals. The final paragraph: “The Ministry provides hospital funding. The Ministry tracks regional health care delivery. The ministry keeps statistics on wait times and provincial health programs. The ministry is responsible for the care of each of this province’s citizens. Why in heaven’s name, unlike in almost every other jurisdiction in this country, doesn’t the ministry run hospitals?”

      Worth the short read, to hear this doctor’s full arguments.


  • Dave Turner

    I have not read the Spec’s article and have no desire to. Reading yet another whiney journalist tear down an individual or organization is of no interest.

    I have had many interactions with JBH over the last twenty or so years. Interactions related to both my own health and the health of family members. I’ve had a pacemaker implanted there, and later replaced when the battery required it. I have had 5 cardioversions to shock my heart back into rhythm as a result of atrial flutter. I’ve had numerous x-rays, nuclear stress tests, CT scans. My mother-in-law following a fall was swiftly diagnosed by medical staff as having brain cancer. She spent her last days at JBH. My elder daughter had her tonsils removed there. Both my daughters were born at JBH. So as you can see I have a broad experience with and exposure to JBH. Each and every time I have called upon the staff at JBH I have received swift, caring, professional, top level attention and treatment. The doctors, nurses, and support staff are the best. They have told me the equipment and facilities the have are of the best quality. Their pretty much one and only complaint is about the chronic understaffing, which is a provincial government driven issue that hospital management is left to deal with.

    I have no idea if hospital management is good, bad or ugly from a doctor, nurse or support staff point of view. Only doctors, nurses and support staff can talk to that. But from a patient’s perspective and the perspective of a family member of a patient Joseph Brant Hospital delivers first class care and treatment.

    • Sinclair Lewis

      “I have not read the Spec’s article and have no desire to. Reading yet another whiney journalist tear down an individual or organization is of no interest.

      I agree Mr. Turner. It is confusing and frequently disheartening to read well-researched articles and entertain points of view that are different from and perhaps conflict with your own. Much better and more comforting to maintain a consistent world view.