A Toronto psychiatrist’s decision to offer her patients a pricey Italian meditation retreat landed her before Ontario’s medical regulator Friday, where she was suspended for six months.
Dr. Jasjot Kaur (Tina) Chadda had ended up taking four therapy patients on the retreat she organized, according to an agreed statement of facts filed at her discipline hearing at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, where she admitted to professional misconduct.
The price tag the patients had to cough up was between $5,295 and $5,695. Plus HST. And not including airfare. The program for the retreat, “Eat. Breathe. Think,” was filed at the discipline hearing. It refers to the retreat as the “adventure of a lifetime,” explaining that fees cover things such as accommodations, mindfulness and meditation training, and all meals and drinks — including alcohol with a meal.
The patients had been seeing Chadda for psychotherapy over the years for a range of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. Some were also taking medications prescribed by her.
At least one of the patients, identified only as Patient A due to a publication ban, was dissatisfied with the quality of the retreat, for which she shelled out $5,000. This seems to have partly motivated her to complain about Chadda to the college, according to the agreed statement of facts.
Chadda admitted before a five-member discipline panel that she engaged in “disgraceful, dishonourable or unprofessional conduct” by not maintaining proper boundaries with patients, as well as in her billing practices. (The panel heard she had been charging patients a fee beyond what OHIP was already paying her for therapy sessions, and failed to always provide receipts.)
Her lawyer, Anne Posno, told the panel that Chadda accepts responsibility for the “errors” she made.
“The agreed statement of facts that has been presented to this panel is a deplorable indictment of a physician who has used the practice of medicine to develop a meditation-retreat business, and self-promotion marketing all for your personal benefit,” discipline panel chair Pierre Giroux told Chadda in a public reprimand, as she stood before the panel.
On top of being suspended effective June 15, Chadda was also ordered to take an ethics and boundaries course, as well as to have her billing practices for uninsured services monitored for the next 12 months.
“It is always the duty of the physician, not the patient, to ensure that appropriate boundaries are maintained,” college prosecutor Carolyn Silver said. “In this case, Dr. Chadda violated appropriate professional boundaries with numerous patients in various respects.”
Chadda had also asked Patient A on several occasions to do a video testimonial about the retreat for the doctor’s website, telling her she could have her hair and makeup done at the doctor’s home. The patient declined.
Dr. Greg Chandler, a psychiatrist retained by the college to review the Chadda case, noted that patients of psychiatrists are particularly vulnerable.
“When a psychiatrist asks something of a patient, the patient may comply because they do not want to risk the psychiatrist’s disapproval, with the ultimate feared risk being the termination of the therapy,” Chandler said, according to the agreed statement of facts. “This could lead patients to compromise their own best interests in an attempt to please their psychiatrists.”
Chandler also found Chadda had charged some patients additional fees for their therapy sessions. He found she had charged $65 for a one-hour therapy session on top of the $160 she would receive from OHIP, and an additional $45 for a half-hour session, on top of the $80 she would get from OHIP.
While physicians are entitled to charge for uninsured services that take up their time and resources, Chandler wrote: “ It is difficult to imagine what services could be provided to make these fair and reasonable amounts.” He said the extra fees would be a barrier to accessing health care and cause “potential harm” to patients.
“The amount of supplemental billing … demonstrates a lack of professionalism by Dr. Chadda,” he said.
Chadda is also the author of The Heart That Heals Itself: Discovering Emotional Riches through Meditations and Reflections. According to a biography on the Indigo bookstore website, Chadda’s “brilliant work gently guides readers to solace and peace through meditation, relaxation and prayer.”
Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering legal affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant