Dr. Duane Pelser’s patients upset over ordeal, delay in fix
BY VOICE STAFF
Dr. Duane Pelser, a family physician who recently opened a clinic on Highway 20, has been unable to open his office for over a month. In early September, Pelser’s medical license was cancelled by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) for his failure to pay the annual membership dues.
“On September fifth I received the mail that shows the previous month’s billing information,” Pelser says. “And I was so surprised to see that I wasn’t going to be paid for August.” He immediately called the CPSO to see what had happened, and was told that he hadn’t paid his membership fee, and so his license had been suspended in early August. But according Pelser, during that phone call he was told that his grace period extended to September 8th, and if he paid the fees—plus a late penalty—before then, his license would be re-instated within 48 hours.
After getting off the phone with the CPSO, Pelser paid the $1600 membership fee, plus the penalty fee. After 48 hours had passed without reinstatement of his license, Pelser again called the CPSO.
“This time, I was told that I had missed my deadline, and wouldn’t be able to apply for renewal. I would have to apply for a new license, as if I were a new doctor, and that my application wouldn’t be considered until December.” He says that he was bounced from desk to desk at the CPSO, eventually repeating his story seven different times.
The CPSO told him that they had made every effort to advise him in the spring of the June 1 deadline for renewal, saying that they had sent emails and letters to him.
Pelser, who was the victim of identity theft last year, had recently changed his email and mailing addresses. This spring, he was in telephone contact with the CPSO while he started his new practice, and had verbally provided them with the address of his new clinic.
“I know that they received the address, because I received official correspondence from them at that address. After my license was cancelled, they told me that I didn’t update my address in writing, and that’s why I didn’t receive a renewal notice there.”
Pelser insists that he isn’t trying to make excuses for not paying the fee.
“I completely forgot about it, probably because I was used to other doctors and practice managers reminding me at past clinics. But I take responsibility for forgetting. I deserve a punishment that fits my crime. That punishment should be the late fee, not a cancellation of my license.”
Pelser received legal advice from the Ontario Medical Association, which has lawyers that represent doctors.
“They told me that I’m completely in the right—that I paid within the grace period. But they also told me that the courts would rule that it’s an internal matter of the CPSO,” he says.
While Pelser is upset by what has happened to him, he says that, “This isn’t really about me. It’s about my patients. The CPSO told me that my patients will have to go to a walk-in clinic, since I run a solo practice.”
Pelser fears that all of the referrals to specialists that he made during the summer won’t be honoured, either. “These are very important cases,” he says. “One woman had a lump on her breast—she can’t afford to waste any time. And since I’m not longer practicing, my referrals won’t be valid.”
Pelser has practiced family medicine in the area for over a decade, first at a clinic on Pancake Lane, and then at Welland McMaster Family Health. Setting up his new clinic earlier this year took Pelser several months, during which extensive renovations were completed and equipment installed, coincidentally in space occupied by the Voice before the paper moved to downtown Fonthill last December.
“The start-up costs were at least $100,000,” Pelser said. “I’ve only been paid three times this year—and even though I’m not working now, I still have to pay rent on the clinic. So this is all really difficult financially.”
Of the 2000 patients Pelser had at McMaster, in Welland, 1000 of them moved over to his new office in Fonthill during its first two months of operation.
“I’ve never had a doctor who cares as much as Dr Pelser,” says Rosemary Culos, a patient of his. Culos has known Pelser since he was working on Pancake Lane, and says that the doctor was instrumental in helping her father during the last years of his life. Nancy Martin, another of Pelser’s patients, started a petition when she heard of Pelser’s predicament. The petition, which asks the CPSO to reinstate Pelser’s license, has received nearly 400 signatures in just over a week.
A spokesperson for the CPSO, Katherine Clarke, said that she was unable to comment on any specific doctor. She did say, however, that “Not all new-doctor applications must be reviewed by the committee,” and that these approvals can happen throughout the year, which is contradictory to what Pelser says he was told.
Pelser has been trying to inform his patients of what’s happening, but this has been made difficult because he is not supposed to enter his office.
“I don’t want them to think that I’ve just abandoned them and gone back to the bush,” he says. Pelser, who is from South Africa, plans to return there soon to spend time visiting his family and to escape from the stress of his ordeal. Pelser will stay with his brother, a lawyer, who has been trying to convince Pelser to move back to South Africa and join him in a medical-legal firm.
“That’s not for me,” Pelser says. “I don’t want to spend my days going through documents, looking for places where other doctors messed up. I want to be helping people.” Pelser is reluctant to consider working again in South Africa because family physicians there mostly just refer patients to specialists. Pelser first came to Canada because his father had also lived and worked in the North America for a time. Pelser thought that like his father he would only stay for a few years. “But I loved it here, and now I want to stay,” he said.
Martin and Culos have been lobbying on Pelser’s behalf, contacting MPPs’ offices in addition to circulating the petition. Both were patients of Pelser’s at his old clinic, McMaster, and suspect that staff there have not helped Pelser’s case. Pelser says that he left the clinic because of office politics, and his departure does not seem to have been amicable.
Pelser says that he was only permitted to tell patients that he would be leaving during his last month. Afterwards, the clinic told patients who inquired as to Pelser’s whereabouts that they “didn’t know where he was,” even though he was planning to open a clinic ten minutes away.
Nancy Martin says that a receptionist for the doctor that replaced Pelser was “misleading” in a phone call, and tried to have her come in to the office to sign new patient forms. “When I said that I was waiting for Dr. Pelser’s office to re-open, she became rather belligerent,” Martin says.
Pelser says that he has heard from patients that McMaster told them that if they followed Pelser to his new practice, they would not be permitted to return to McMaster.
“I don’t know if the CPSO called McMaster to ask about my renewal fee. But if they did, I don’t know what McMaster would have said. Would they have said ‘We don’t know where he is?’ All I know is that I didn’t see any reminder until the beginning of September,” Pelser said.
Karen Millejours, the clinic manager at the Fonthill portion of Welland McMaster, refused to speak about Pelser. “We don’t have any comment on anything,” she said.
“I don’t want to sound like a crybaby,” Pelser said. “I understand that I missed the renewal. But the CPSO is ignoring its own grace period, and then is using its discretion in such a punitive manner.”
Pelser is advising his patients to find a new doctor, saying that he doesn’t expect them to wait around while his future is unclear, but not all of them are taking his advice.
“I’m not looking around for another doctor,” says Martin, “Dr. Pelser is coming back.”
UPDATE: Corrected to reflect that Pelser had not already left for South Africa, as he originally told the Voice, but rather delayed his trip.