VANCOUVER -- CTV News Vancouver has learned a vice president and chief operating officer at Vancouver Coastal Health has been abruptly removed from her position without any explanation to staff or senior administrators, and the health authority is refusing to discuss the issue publicly.

Karin Olson, who is vice president and chief operating officer of the coastal district within VCH, was removed from her positions at the end of January in a move that came as a surprise to staff who’d worked under her at Lions Gate Hospital.

“This unexpected news has come as quite a shock to many of the medical staff,” reads an internal memo sent to the hospital’s medical staff on Jan. 31 and obtained by CTV News.

It’s signed by Dr. Daniel Heffner, Medical Staff Association president, as well as Dr. Peter Edmunds, senior medical director for the coastal district.

The document lauds Olson’s “stellar collaboration, communication and honesty with medical staff,” and describes her implementation of a new health information technology program and leadership during the COVID-19 crisis as “excellent.” It goes on to suggest neither doctor is clear on why she was removed from her positions.

“Physicians have expressed concerns of how Karin's departure came about,” the memo continues. “The decisions made by senior leaders of VCH and the discussions between them leading to this outcome have not been shared with coastal leadership or the (Medical Staff Association).”

CTV News asked Vancouver Coastal Health about the matter and why a member of the senior executive team was terminated during a pandemic with neither explanation to staff nor public notice. The VCH website no longer lists Olson on the senior executive team and has named Sean Parr as interim VP for the coastal district.

“Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) does not publicly comment on confidential employee or human resources matters,” wrote a spokesperson. “As VCH recruits for a vice-president (for its) coastal community of care, solid leadership continuity is in place across the coastal communities.”

Those coastal communities include Bella Coola, where a botched vaccine rollout prompted allegations of racism and an apology from the province’s top vaccine administrator.

According to VCH officials, while staff administered 350 doses to residents of Bella Coola and the Nuxalk Nation, they left with 230 doses unused. As first reported by the CBC, on Jan. 22, medical health officer Dr. John Harding left the community under RCMP escort days after arriving and before all the doses had been administered, alleging he felt threatened.

“Vancouver Coastal Health has betrayed our trust and used their position of privilege to withdraw potentially life-saving vaccines from our community in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak,” said Nuxalk elected Chief Wally Webber in a news release on Feb. 2, in which he urged health officials to take action against systemic racism. “This issue could have been resolved in a simple phone call, but instead VCH referred to the initial vaccines as a ‘gift’ and used an RCMP escort to take the remaining vaccines to the airport. The whole thing was a complete disgrace and we are still in shock at their actions.” 

Later that day, the VCH board chair and director of the province’s vaccine rollout issued a public apology for the incident.

“As a health care organization on a long journey of reconciliation, Vancouver Coastal Health deeply regrets that we failed to provide a culturally safe and respectful experience for Nuxalk Nation members while providing COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable Elders in their remote community,” reads a message sent on behalf of Dr. Penny Ballem. “Vancouver Coastal Health has work to do to rebuild a respectful relationship with the Nuxalk Nation – (the) Vancouver Coastal Health Board of Directors, leaders, staff and medical staff are strongly committed to that work.”

When reached via email, the Nuxalk Nation replied that they had not heard that anyone was let go in connection with the vaccine rollout.

CTV News has attempted to reach Olson to ask about the circumstances around her termination, but she has not responded. She was already off the job by Jan. 31, though it’s not clear when her employment was formally terminated.

According to her biography on Vancouver Coastal Health’s website, Olson had been “responsible for the delivery of acute, residential and community care services in North and West Vancouver, the Sea To Sky and Sunshine Coast communities, as well as Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.”

She has both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in nursing from UBC and holds an executive MBA from the Sauder School of Business. She worked as a registered nurse for 35 years, the most recent of which were in clinical leadership positions. She had returned to the region in 2016 after working for three years in Kitchener, Ont. as clinical programs and chief nursing executive at Grand River Hospital.

According to publicly available government documents, Olson earned $238,415 in salary in 2020 under the job description, “chief operating officer, coastal.”   


The original photo caption for this story incorrectly referred to Karin Olson as Dr. Karin Olson. She is not a medical doctor or a PhD.