Dear readers: I expected some negative fallout from this post and of course I’m getting it. I’d like to make one thing clear: when it comes to rehab, addicts and alcoholics are free to talk about their own recovery. What I object to is the tattling nature of what the Toronto Star has done by speaking to others in Ford’s rehab facility. Every patient needs privacy, not just the mayor, and this sort of reporting puts everyone at risk.
Kevin Donovan, an investigative journalist with the Toronto Star, has angered many of us who monitor healthcare in Canada. At issue is the privacy of Rob Ford’s stay at GreeneStone, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility based in the Muskokas. Here’s how Donovan’s article begins:
Mayor Rob Ford pushed and scuffled with fellow rehab residents and was so verbally abusive that he was kicked out of his group therapy program, according to people who have knowledge of his two month stay at GreeneStone. These accounts of what one person referred to as “destructive behaviour” stands in stark contrast to Ford’s recent public statements that he…takes his recovery seriously. “Ford broke things, got into fights with other residents…[he] stopped people from sharing their stories, which is key to a successful rehab experience,” said another source. “Other residents felt intimidated. They felt he was a bully. He was always saying he did not belong there.”
Donovan goes on to describe his sources:
For this story, the Star has obtained accounts of Ford’s time in rehab from three people with knowledge of his time there, including a fellow patient, and from others, including a staffer, who provided accounts through an intermediary. Due to concerns over publicly breaching the confidentiality of the treatment facility, the sources asked that their names not be published.
Mayor Ford has been an ongoing target of a Toronto media unhappy with his conservative politics. However, as the entire English-speaking world now knows, Torontonians have other reasons for concern: his downward spiral into drug and alcohol abuse is well-documented thanks to his carelessness, the ubiquity of smartphones and a media willing to pay for scandalous videos. That Ford has been his own worst enemy is not in dispute. Neither is the fact that the Toronto Star, as evidenced above, has pushed past acceptable boundaries and violated his and his family’s privacy.
When it comes to health records, violations like it can be deadly. In my family’s case, my stroke-afflicted mother was put at risk by the words of the surgeon who had amputated her leg. In her discharge summary — the document that summarizes a patient’s stay in hospital — I, like Ford, was described as abusive. This was in reference to words I exchanged with the surgeon when I discovered he’d falsified a report. Of course that context was not described in the summary, so when subsequent doctors read about our disagreement, my mother was turned away from their offices with vague excuses. Our difficulties became particularly acute when a dedicated eldercare clinic, which provides transport for the disabled, precipitously dropped my mother as a patient. When our rattled social worker tried to investigate, she was stonewalled. Abuse, it turns out, is in the eye of the beholder.
To read more about my family’s experience, click here.
Rob Ford may very well have behaved badly at GreeneStone. The missing piece of the puzzle, however, is the context. Having volunteered at a rehab, I know patients are often volatile and staff are trained to deal with them accordingly. It’s quite likely that Ford wasn’t alone in behaving badly, if indeed he behaved badly at all. Taking the word of other patients is a risky affair and Donovan’s doing so is a sign of his naivete when it comes to the world of addiction and recovery.
Moreover, he implies that one GreeneStone owner, Shawn Leon, has a questionable background. Although Leon says he does not have a history of addiction, many rehab workers are recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, some of whom do have criminal pasts. However, when we consider that the majority of prison inmates in Canada are there for crimes committed because of drugs or alcohol, these troubled pasts make sense. Some of the most dedicated counsellors I’ve met through my volunteer work have spent time in jail. Take away the substances and what you’re left with, most of the time, are damaged but eminently decent human beings who have learned hard lessons. Donovan’s colouration of facts is misleading and nothing he reports counts as news for those of us familiar with addiction.
So I wrote to GreeneStone to ask them who spoke to the media. Here is our correspondence:
I’m wondering if the person who shared private information about
Mayor Rob Ford is going to remain on your payroll? The Toronto Star’s coverage, by
Kevin Donovan, is very troubling. I’d like to know if anything will be done
about the people who broke his anonymity.
Thank you for your email. GreeneStone takes patient care and
confidentiality very seriously. As an organization we take great strides to
protect patient confidentiality and have never spoken to the media about any
of our patients.
I believe the staff at GreeneStone when they say they take confidentiality seriously. They wouldn’t be in business if they didn’t. So who snitched? And why do Donovan and the Toronto Star believe that other patients are more reliable than Ford? Isn’t it possible that the patient Donovan spoke to simply dislikes Ford and is seizing the opportunity to do something about it? And what about the future? This breach of privacy makes the possibility of any subsequent rehabs, which the mayor may need, exceedingly difficult: what institution will go up against the Toronto Star and their willingness to pay and plant informants? How many high risk patients, who fear exposure, will leave and not get the help they need?
Donovan’s errors in judgement are a genuine tragedy for the Fords and their children. When it comes to rehab, it’s a time honoured tradition that the famous are granted space and time to deal with their addictions. Denying them their privacy — which the Toronto Star has done here — sets dangerous precedents for us all.
The Twelve Steps of Rob Ford: Will he make it? To read more click here.
Our healthcare system is already unfair to some people. To read more click here.