In Toronto, Dr. Roland Wong was found guilty of professional misconduct last December for improperly prescribing the Ontario government’s Special Diet Allowance to people on Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).
When asked about regrets for his actions, “Regrets? Only that the government doesn’t help the poor,” Dr. Roland Wong told the Star on Monday July 29, 2013, outside of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (the College) office, where a committee is meeting to determine his penalty.
Over a four year period when Wong worked hand in hand with anti-poverty groups in Ontario, he billed the government for $1.8 million dollars in special diet allowances the College of Physicians and Surgeons have deemed where improperly made; claiming he did not assess patients properly and did not keep accurate records.
In some cases, Dr. Wong prescribed an additional $250.00 per person per family (the maximum allowance per month) because they had, for example wheat and soy allergies and chronic constipation. For a family of four, this adds up to $1,000.00, in what is a crucial supplement for individuals and families struggling to make enough money per month to pay and rent and feed the kids.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons audited fifteen of Dr. Wong’s cases. In one of the cases, Dr. Wong wrote that ten family members were sick enough to qualify for the Special Diet Allowance maximum, which added an extra $2,500.00 to their monthly cheque.
According to the College, Dr. Wong filled out on average six times more forms that other Ontario practitioners and of those, signing off on roughly half of the $200.00 to $250.00 applications submitted between April 2006 and September 2009.
The Ontario government under Dalton McGuinty announced in 2010 that it would cancel the Special Diet Allowance. This social assistance provision, according to the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), was used by twenty per cent of welfare and disability recipients to help buy healthy food items such as fresh fruits and vegetables and other medically necessary dietary items.
In response to cutting the Special Diet Allowance, the government increased welfare and disability support payment rates by 1 per cent.
In the end, the Special Diet Allowance was not cancelled but was strictly revamped.
A single person on OW can receive a maximum of $606.00 per month for basic needs and shelter. A single person on ODSP ran receive a maximum of $1075.00 per month for the same. A complete benefit chart can be found here.
While anti-poverty activists herald Dr. Wong as a Robin Hood Doctor for helping to beef up woefully inadequate government support amounts, the College of Physicians and Surgeons believes that Dr. Wong has a profit-based motivation where he could charge OHIP for each form he filled out.
But testimony for Dr. Wong’s case has stated that he should not be punished for making a profit while engaging in what he believes is ethically right.
OCAP used to hold large Special Diet Allowance community sigh-up events, even holding one on the lawn of Queen’s Park, in an effort to let OW and ODSP clients know about the once obscure allowance. The government has struggled since on how to handle the great influx of applicants, seeking to make their life easier – and healthier – on government supports.
Dr. Wong told his supporters, “It’s difficult for me to say how remorseful I am. It is done and a lot of people benefited from it.” He currently continues to fill out allowance forms while waiting for the judgment of the College.
Dr. Wong has his practice in the middle of downtown Toronto in Chinatown on Spadina Avenue.
In an October 2011 speech, “Compassion and altruism forms the foundation of Practice of Medicine; my action in filling the Special Diet form fulfills those fundamental requirements of being a good physician. Thousands upon thousands saw positive changes in their health and their lives. Yet I am being punished by being called before the Disciplinary Panel of the College of Physician and Surgeon. What is driving this urge to punish me?”
“It began with then councillor, now Mayor Robert Ford who believed that I had committed fraud and he reported me to the College in 2009. Perhaps assistance to the poor falls into his ‘gravy’ train ideology. He left the picture in my persecution after the complaint. Instead of the gravy train he is now stuck in a “mud” train,” he said.
In a statement released by OCAP on July 25, 2013, in support of Dr. Wong, “The real people that should be punished are those in the government that force people to live on sub-poverty levels of income. This is a government that has slashed the Special Diet, cut Community Start-Up, and pushed down the rates of social assistance by over 55% since 1995 – and yet they criminalize a health provider. Rob Ford, who laid a complaint against Dr. Wong, said that, ‘Doctors should not be advocates for the poor.’”