Residents of the eastern Ontario town of Hawkesbury are reeling after a doctor was charged with first-degree murder during an OPP investigation into suspicious deaths at the local hospital.
Hawkesbury councillor Robert Lefebvre, chair of the police services board, said he received a call Friday morning from the OPP’s detachment commander about the arrest on Thursday evening of Dr. Brian Nadler, 35, who has been charged with one count of first-degree murder. The OPP also announced Friday that it is “looking into the circumstances surrounding other recent suspicious deaths” at Hawkesbury and District General Hospital.
“I was expecting a call from (the detachment commander) on a completely unrelated matter. When he related this to me, it was complete shock. It really hit us hard,” Lefebvre said.
“It is very trying and difficult and also hard to understand,” Lefebvre added.
Spokespersons for the hospital and the OPP declined further comment on Saturday. Hospital spokesperson Édith Jean-Louis confirmed in an email Friday that all of Nadler’s hospital privileges have now been revoked. Police have not specified how many other deaths they are reviewing.
News of Nadler’s arrest and the ongoing police investigation comes at a troubling time for the hospital, which announced on March 25 its second major COVID outbreak in less than a month.
Town councillor Raymond Campbell said the news of the murder charge and investigation spread quickly throughout the town of 10,000 — 80 per cent of whom are French-speaking.
“It was on Facebook before it came out on the news,” Campbell said.
“Who is the person that he (Nadler) is accused of killing? Hawkesbury is a small town so a lot of people know each other. Everybody is looking … to know what happened and who (the victim) is,” Campbell said.
“The community is understandably concerned about the revelations we heard on Friday. Everyone is awaiting more clarity on the situation,” said town councillor Antonios Tsourounakis.
“A large part of interacting with a physician involves trust. When that trust is betrayed, it is a betrayal of the highest order. While we await more details, our hearts go out to the victims and their families,” he added.
“I remain confident that this was an isolated incident and … the hospital is safe and secure. I myself have been a patient there in the past and have received nothing but excellent care.
“People are aware of it (murder investigation) but they’re not that nervous,” said town councillor André Chamaillard, whose granddaughter is studying to be a doctor and had worked with Nadler three month ago.
“My granddaughter said he (Nadler) was a nice guy,” Chamaillard said.
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The hospital announced on March 25 a COVID outbreak at an in-patient unit involving 16 patients and five staff, with five deaths related to the virus. On March 17, the hospital reported an outbreak which involved 11 active cases, including eight patients and three staff.
The hospital has recently completed a six-year $150 million expansion to turn it into a full-service regional hospital, serving eastern Ontario and communities in western Quebec, across the Ottawa River. Upgrades include expanded emergency services, a family birthing centre and new diagnostic and surgical services.
Several local politicians noted, that along with the hospital’s expansion, there has been an urgent demand to fill numerous vacancies for medical professionals and some difficulty in finding them.
“Some doctors from Quebec are coming in because it’s so close to Montreal,” Campbell noted.
“We know the homegrown professionals that have been serving the community for years but a lot of new names, that new professionals, that work at the hospital don’t necessarily live in the community,” Lefebvre said.
(Nadler lives in the Montreal suburban community of Dollard-des-Ormeaux.)
Richard Collin, who operates a contracting business in the town, said residents were already unnerved by the COVID outbreaks when news of the police investigation and Nadler’s arrest — which he called “frightening” — was announced.
“I’ve had some medical issues as of late so I’ve spent a lot of time in the hospital. I just can’t wait to hear what’s going on,” Collin said.
Despite the COVID outbreaks and the OPP investigation, local politicians expressed confidence in and support for the general hospital and its staff.
“I remain confident that this was an isolated incident and now that the alleged perpetrator is in custody, the hospital is safe and secure. I myself have been a patient there in the past and have received nothing but excellent care. The fact that the staff at (the hospital) realized something was amiss and called in the authorities probably saved more lives,” Tsourounakis said.
“We have a brand new renovated hospital … and our staff is just magnificent that works there. They do a hell of a job, they have a good reputation at our hospital,” said town councillor Yves Paquette, whose nephew works at the hospital.
But news of the police investigation has been disquieting, he conceded.
“We’re a small community and you don’t expect to have news like that. You expect a thing like that in big towns. In your mind, it’s always, ‘Well, that can happen in Montreal. It can happen in Toronto,’” Paquette said.
Bruce DeMara is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @bdemara
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