Summer of troubles for private clinic on foothills campus

By Manal Sheikh

This past summer, the Helios Wellness Centre, a private health care clinic housed at the University of Calgary foothills campus, was the subject of a provincial investigation that accused the clinic of allowing university donors to skip waiting lists for medical treatments.

Most of the evidence in the investigation comes from publicly -accessed documents from previous years. However, there is not any solid evidence to determine whether certain health services were expedited.

Although Helios founder Dr. Chen Fong has denied having any knowledge of university donors being given preferential treatment, there has been evidence to the contrary.

Handwritten notes from Sept. 13, 2007 state, “ [doctors] will expedite services [through] usual channels.” Further adding to the controversy, the Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry released a report in August stating that members of Helios Wellness Centre have been jumping the line for colonoscopies in the publicly funded Colon Cancer Screening Centre. However, the report stated that “there was no conscious effort by Helios staff and physicians to circumvent CCSC booking practices.”

Fong and former U of C dean of medicine Dr. Tom Feasby also had an email conversation on Feb. 4, 2010 in which they discussed how to help a triple-bypass patient get a transfer more quickly. Feasby has since stepped down as the dean of medicine.

Fong and the doctors associated with the Helios Wellness Centre were unavailable to comment on the accusation that the Helios Wellness Centre rewarded generous donors to the
U of C.

Wellness centres charge membership fees to provide uninsured medical services like yoga and acupuncture and are part of a larger public debate regarding accessibility and universality. Critics have expressed concern that these membership fees would block access to physicians because of the financial cost, hindering the point of universal health care that is founded on the principle of ensuring medical access to those who most need it, not those with the ability to pay.

Speaking about the Helios Wellness Centre, NDP health critic David Eggen said, “This is the kind of thing that makes people disgusted in our public institutions. I mean, that is the essence of private health care in that you are buying or through favours getting preferential access to health services.”

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