Hospital manager in ‘kickbacks’ allegations still waiting for investigation to end after 19 months
A hospital manager who was fired amid allegations that he took kickbacks from medical companies has complained the police investigation is still hanging over his head, 19 months on.
Wayne Watson, who was Biomedical Engineering Manager at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, strenuously denies the allegations, and says they have ruined his career.
The Royal Gazette the yet-to-be-completed police investigation has prevented him from finding another job in his field or launching legal action to defend his name.
The father-of-one, 48, from Warwick, said: “I have nothing to hide and the Bermuda Hospitals Board should be ashamed of their lack of professionalism and personal attacks and stop playing God with people’s lives.”
Mr Watson worked for the hospital for 17 years and was responsible for clinical device engineering issues, contracts, procurement and clinical training. In early 2010, allegations were levelled against him by his employers that he took kickbacks from two US companies.
Mr Watson said the allegations surfaced after he’d experienced “difficult” working relationships with executives including Chief of Staff Dr Donald Thomas III, and Chief Information Services officer Jorge Grillo.
According to Mr Watson, he was fired by Dr Thomas on February 24 2010 without chance to defend himself. He says both US companies have taken exception to the allegations. However, a BHB spokeswoman told
The Royal Gazette it takes policy breaches seriously and has acted “appropriately”.
In letters relating to the termination of his employment, Dr Thomas said Mr Watson was being dismissed “for conspiracy to defraud and / or attempting to conspire to defraud the Bermuda Hospitals Board [BHB] by demanding and / or accepting kickback payments and other personal benefits from overseas vendors and / or their agents.”
He alleged that Mr Watson took kickbacks from one company to persuade the hospital a service contract should be renewed. He also alleged that Mr Watson “demanded personal benefits” from an employee of another company in exchange for that company doing business with BHB. And he accused Mr Watson of accepting free trips and accommodation without disclosing them.
In the letters, which Mr Watson agreed to share with this newspaper, Dr Thomas said Mr Watson was being dismissed for “serious misconduct on grounds that you acted in flagrant breach of the BHB’s conflict of interest and code of conduct policies”.
Mr Watson was escorted off the hospital premises by police after being fired. He was questioned for four hours, and spent 24 hours in the cells before being released on police bail. His home was also searched by police and he was banned from re-entering the hospital premises, except if he needed medical treatment.
“I waived my right to a lawyer and answered all questions,” he said. He returned to the police station six months later. At that point, he said, the police told him they had “not found anything to consider me a criminal”. However, he has yet to be told the investigation has concluded.
Mr Watson admits that he received money from and had travel paid for by the suppliers, for work done for private entities. He strongly denies any wrongdoing, or conflict of interest, insisting his job involved him working with outside companies to support “medical device needs in the community”.
“I have always been direct and up front with my affairs and a precedent had already been set with previous directors who have known of my outside involvement providing clinical direction and service to private entities,” he said.
He does not believe there was any conflict of interest in this, telling
The Royal Gazette it was necessary due to the hospital investing heavily in state-of-the-art clinical technology in conjunction with the private sector, which required specialist maintenance.
On the topic of travel, he said: “My affiliations with these companies translated into other business because they could trust my expertise and quality of work. It was very normal for manufacturers to work in conjunction with the hospital to pay for trips. The hospital would sometimes pay for airfare and the company would pay the rest.”
He said of the allegations against him: “After 17 years helping to establish international standards and providing state-of-the-art clinical engineering to practically every healthcare facility in Bermuda, it is incomprehensible that I would be reduced to a petty thief and discarded without the possibility of defending myself through due process.”
Mr Watson believes his strong views over the way the hospital is run, which he has expressed to executives, may have contributed to the action against him.
“The continued disconnect between key executives and service providers (such as) Biomedical Engineering is an unfortunate reality that infringes upon many aspects of medical device sustainability and patient care,” he alleged.
Mr Watson is a divorcee with an 18-year-old daughter who attends university in the United States. He has three siblings, and his oldest brother is internationally-renowned motivational speaker Dennis Rahim Watson.
He wishes to be paid compensation for what he views as a violation of his rights by his former employer. He said that as a result of the action against him, he has been unable to pay his mortgage and faces losing his house. He is working part-time, but has been unable to find another job in his field.
“I would easily accept the ramifications of my actions if I was guilty of something, but to be falsely accused and your life destroyed as a result of it can make any man lose control and perspective on life,” said Mr Watson.
Explaining why he decided to go public with his story, he said: “I consider myself an extremely private person, however I am a man of substance and I will not suffer in silence as a result of blatant and unwarranted injustices done to me in my own country.”
His lawyer, Ed Bailey, said: “We are awaiting the result of the police investigation before advising Mr Watson as to his legal option in seeking redress.”
Invited to respond to the allegations, a BHB spokeswoman said: “BHB takes a breach of its policies extremely seriously, and such matters are dealt with through a robust process based on the facts. An executive panel oversees a thorough investigation, reviews findings and has a hearing with the employee concerned. In this particular case, BHB is satisfied that its due diligence was followed and that it has acted appropriately. We are unable to provide further details as, following the completion of the BHB process, a police investigation was initiated that is still ongoing.”
A police spokesman declined an invitation to respond to questions, including a question about why the investigation is taking so long.
Ed Ball of the Bermuda Public Service Union said: “We are still in touch with the Board over the status of Mr Watson’s case. (We are told) the matter is with the police.”