Friday, December 2, 2016

Nurse Found Guilty of Professional Misconduct

Carolyn Strom, a Registered Nurse who posted negative comments on Facebook, about the care of her grandfather has been found guilty of professional misconduct by the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association (SRNA).  The Facebook post described "sub par" care in the St Joseph's Health Facility in Macklin, Saskatchewan.  The staff of the facility filed a complaint with the SRNA.

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Today we live in an era where health care administrators are openly seeking patient involvement and feedback regarding the patient experience .  It seems that the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association (SRNA) is taking a position that counters the principles of meaningful patient engagement, and patient and family centred care. 

As someone who has raised many concerns about my family's health care, I have had to face a harsh reality.  It is exceedingly difficult to be heard and more importantly nearly impossible to effect meaningful change.  As a hospital board member who has listened to numerous complaints and concerns, I sympathize with those who choose to go through the formal process of initiating a concern through patient relations.  The process is bureaucratic and exceedingly slow.  As a caregiver I have felt the frustration of not feeling you are being listened too (wanting to raise concerns) but without an effective avenue to do so.  I am embarrassed to admit it, but I have on numerous occasions used unconventional means to make my concerns known.  This is just harsh reality of a broken patient complaints system.

The story of Ms. Strom highlights an even bigger issue.  An issue I hear about from many health care professionals.  In this case, Ms. Strom, a Registered Nurse would have specialized knowledge of health care and is in a position to speak with some authority on her grandfather's care from the perspective of a family member and as a nurse.  This is a perspective we should be seeking out, and not trying to discourage.  I hear this complaint often.  Nurses, and in some cases Doctors, encourage me to "speak up" because I can say things (as a parent or husband) that they cannot, as they fear disciplinary action.  There is a great deal of fear among staff in health care that raising legitimate concerns can result in disciplinary action similar to what Ms. Strom is facing.

Relating to the specifics of the charges levied against Ms. Strom, I find it ironic that SRNA is accusing Ms. Strom of violating her grandfather's confidentiality.  As a family member, I believe she has a right to do that.   I routinely blog about the health care experiences of my family members, and I have the right to do so.  I believe there is a distinct separation from my role as a "caregiver" and the role I play as health care leader (as a hospital board member or a board member of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority).  Do the rules change if you are an "RN?"  The basis of that question likely lies in the determination of whether "legally" she was posting comments as a family member or in a role as an RN.  The SRNA contends that because MS Strom identified herself has an RN that she is subject to the rules of conduct stipulated by the SRNA.  Labour law would tend to support that argument, as social media can be viewed as an extension of the workplace.  Having written social media policy, and referring to the policy in my own workplace it is common for employers to ask employees, when they post on social media, that they NOT use a pseudonym and clearly identify who they work for.  This is important so that comments made by the author can be put into context and there is no deception.  If Ms. Strom wanted to malign or attack the character of a person or an institution she could have easily created an anonymous account to do so.  I think this is an important point when you consider the intent of her post.  I think intent is a very important consideration in this instance.  This the question I often ask myself when I post something on social media; "am I being part of the solution or part of the problem?" 

Health Care in this country has many challenges.  We need much improved methods of identifying failures within the system.  I hope Ms. Strom's intent in posting her concerns on social media were a genuine attempt to try to raise valid issues.  We need many more people who are interested in solving problems and not trying to limit appropriate communication.  I hope this incident prompts SRNA to more clearly define its Social Media Policy and educate its members on how they can effectively engage in meaningful improvements.  My fear is that disciplinary action taken by SRNA against Ms. Strom will further discourage these nurses from raising valid concerns and that would be a huge step backward for engagement in our health care.

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