Naturopath in Alberta toddler’s meningitis death trial under investigation after complaint letter

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The College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta is investigating one of its members in relation to the death of 19-month-old Ezekiel Stephan from bacterial meningitis.

Ezekiel’s parents, David, 32, and Collet, 36, were found guilty Tuesday of not providing the necessaries of life to the toddler.

A letter to the CNDA, signed by 43 physicians and surgeons, raised a number of concerns with the conduct of Tracey Tannis, a naturopath consulted by the Stephans and who testified at their trial.

Kristen Tanaka, the college’s complaints director, responded in a letter dated March 29 and obtained by CBC News. ​

“I have determined that your complaint will be investigated pursuant to section 55(2)(d) of the Health Professions Act,” she wrote.

Tanaka said there will be an investigation and then a decision will be made to either dismiss the complaint or to refer the matter to a tribunal.

Naturopathy is a regulated health profession in Alberta.

Standard of care not met, doctors say

“By any objective measure of a health-care professional licensed to care for children Dr. Tannis did not meet the standard of care,” reads the original complaint letter, dated March 28.

“According to what has been given as evidence in the Stephan trial, Dr. Tannis did not physically examine Ezekiel, who was so stiff from meningeal inflammation that he could not sit in his car seat when his parents took him to the Lethbridge Naturopathic Medical Clinic.”

The doctors raise concerns that Tannis said she did not communicate with Collet, “yet two other people have given statements that Dr. Tannis did, in fact, discuss viral meningitis with Collet, and gave her echinacea anyway.”

The death report on Ezekiel determined he had bacterial meningitis, not the less serious viral variety of the disease.

The letter questions whether Tannis is aware bacterial meningitis is fatal if not treated with antibiotics and can cause brain damage without prompt treatment.

“The degree of responsibility that Dr. Tannis bears for the tragic outcome Ezekiel Stephan suffered is a matter for the CNDA to explore and publicly address,” reads the letter.

The doctors also express concern about the lack of contact between Tannis and Ezekiel.

“Albertans should also expect that any regulated health professional using the designation ‘Dr.’ would not recommend a treatment for a child without first physically examining them in order to arrive at a diagnosis,” they wrote.

The letter concludes with one additional recommendation for the college: to examine whether it is appropriate for naturopaths to sell treatments out of their own clinics, and if so, to ensure they are responsible for the effectiveness of the treatment.

The CNDA has not responded to requests for comment other than to release a statement saying complaints and investigations are confidential and will not be made public unless it’s determined a hearing is warranted.

Tannis has not responded to calls from CBC News.

David and Collet Stephan will be back in court on June 13 in order to determine a timeline for sentencing.

Read the complaint letter from the physicians and the response from the CNDA below:

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Naturopath in Alberta toddler’s meningitis death trial under investigation after complaint letter

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