‘It’s been very stressful’: nurse speaks after appealing $26k fine, violation for Facebook comments
Carolyn Strom says when she made the Facebook post about three years ago, she never thought it would result in a legal battle.
Arguments whether to appeal her professional misconduct violation and $26,000 fine were heard Thursday by a Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench judge.
Strom wrote a post on Facebook in 2015 criticizing some palliative care her grandfather received at a long term care home in Macklin. Part of her post said staff wasn’t “up to speed” on end of life care or how to help maintain a patient's dignity.
The Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association received a complaint about the post and launched an investigation. In 2016 Strom was found guilty of unprofessional conduct and fined $26,000, most of which ($25,000), was to refund the SRNA for the costs of the investigation into her post and the resulting hearings, while the remaining $1,000 was the cost of the fine.
“It’s been a very taxing three years,” Strom told reporters after the hearing. “It’s been really stressful and it takes its toll so we’re just hoping that the right decision is made and that we’ll be able to move on from this.”
Strom’s lawyer, Marcus Davies, says it’s a precedent- setting case and is being watched from across the country when it comes to medical professional's freedom of expression and speaking up in the profession. He said if the decision is not overturned it will be “very frightening” and professionals could be gagged by their regulatory body if they make a comment about a professional issue.
“I think there will be one massive sigh of relief from 9,000 nurses across Saskatchewan (if the appeal is granted),” he told reporters. “Exponentially, there should be a sigh of relief from everybody in health care and everybody who practices a profession in Canada.”
Davies called the decision and fine “unreasonable” and “incorrect.” He argued Strom was on maternity leave for one year and wasn’t set to be back at work for seven months when she wrote the post. He argued the code of ethics she was found to be in violation of doesn't apply when a person isn't at work.
“She was off-duty and you’re applying rules that apply to her when she’s on-duty. If you want to apply off-duty rules, make some, but until that happens, you can’t do this,” Davies said.
Lawyers for the SRNA’s investigation committee argue the appeal shouldn’t be granted because the discipline committee’s decision was reasonable.
“The decision they wrote was justified, it was intelligible and it was transparent,” Roger Lepage told reporters. “That’s the test that a court has to apply before overturning a decision.”
Lepage said Strom should have complained through proper channels rather than on social media and argued her post harmed the reputation of nursing staff and undermined the public’s confidence in the care facility.
“Members of the public had approached some of the staff so say, ‘what’s going on at this facility? We’re hearing things.’ It became evident that the public was worried about what kind of care was going on at the facility,” Lepage said.
Strom said she’s now more fearful of speaking up, but will continue to advocate for those who need it.
“I still believe in speaking up when something is wrong,” she said. “Working as a nurse, I will advocate for my patients, I will advocate for my family members as I have and I don’t think that will change.”
Legal counsel for the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association also argued for the appeal to be granted.
Justice Grant Currie has reserved his decision and no date for his verdict has been set.
Strom’s case is not criminal in nature.