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Health department fires Iqaluit social services director

Doctors, other staff sign letter of support but Sage says gesture “won’t change anything”

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

PATRICIA D’SOUZA

About 60 Iqaluit health workers have signed a letter of support for the community director of health and social services in Iqaluit, after he was removed from his job early this week without explanation.

In his 13 years with Nunavut’s Department of Health and Social Services, Doug Sage has held a number of positions, most recently as the head of Iqaluit’s public health, home care and social service programs.

But he was told by telephone this week not to come to work.

Though there has been no official announcement of the decision, word has travelled quickly among staff at the Baffin Regional Hospital, and in health centres throughout the Qikiqtani region.

But, Sage said, while he appreciates the support, he does not want to discuss the matter.

“I really do appreciate the doctors’ support and all the other staff at the hospital and from all over the region, actually, people from all over the region are sending letters and making phone calls. So I appreciate that. I don’t think it’s going to change anything for me, though,” he said in an interview from his home in Iqaluit on Tuesday.

His supporters, however, are eager to discuss the contributions Sage has made.

“Doug Sage is a very credible person, he’s a very honest person. He works hard for the people in the community and if he is gone it’s going to take a long time to fill that vacancy,” said Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatrician who has worked in Nunavut in various capacities since 1995, most recently studying the cause of chronic lung infections in Inuit children.

“Doug has not been a favourite of certain senior administrators for a long time. He’s not a great bureaucrat. Doug violates bureaucratic rules, but he usually does it in the interests of the patients,” said Dr. Sandy MacDonald, director of medical health at the Baffin Regional Hospital.

“He’s a guy who will really go to the wall for patients. He’s a bit unorthodox sometimes, and bureaucracies don’t like that.”

One health worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said the problem is not with Sage, but with the department.

“[Sage] seems to be one of the few people in the whole department of health and social services who seems to care about the day-to-day runnings and also about the people,” the health worker said.

The health worker said that several senior managers are creating an abusive environment for staff, adding that the disruptive atmosphere may be the reason behind the departure of the two chief medical officers recently, and the department’s woeful staffing levels.

“Why are so many positions empty? No one wants to work with them because we all know how difficult they make life for everyone,” the source said.

Sage’s departure, the health worker said, has created a void that will be difficult to fill, “and to tell you the truth, I don’t think they care,” the source added.

“Why are we all outraged? Why is the community outraged? Doug is the only one that really cares. I think that’s why a lot of people are willing to risk their reputations to support him, because he has supported so many people,” the health worker said.

Joanne Bezzubetz, the executive director of the department of health and social services, did not return phonecalls this week.

Bernie Blais, the department’s deputy minister, refused to respond to the show of support by staff.

“This is a matter of confidential discussion between Mr. Sage and ourselves and I’m not prepared to discuss this further than that,” he said.

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