Sask. nurse to fight $26K fine for Facebook comments about grandfather's care

Sask. nurse to fight $26K fine for Facebook comments about grandfather's care

The lawyer for a Prince Albert, Sask., nurse fined $26,000 for using Facebook to complain about her grandfather's palliative care says she will fight the decision in court. 

In October, the discipline committee of the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses' Association found Carolyn Strom guilty of professional misconduct. Strom posted that staff caring for her grandfather weren't "up to speed" on palliative care or how to "help maintain an aging senior's dignity."

Last week she was fined $26,000, primarily to cover the cost of the hearing.

Strom's lawyer Marcus Davies said his client had already filed an appeal to the SRNA after it found her guilty of professional misconduct, but suspended it to wait for the penalty decision.

2 options to appeal

Davies said Strom now has two options: appeal to the SRNA council, or to a judge at the Court of Queen's Bench.

"Our experience thus far hasn't been particularly positive and these are matters — we're talking about the Charter of Rights and the application of law, so we're very much going to want to go in front of a judge," said Davies.

He plans to argue that Strom's comments online were not related to her work as she was on maternity leave at the time, and that she was referring to a family member's situation outside the health region where she worked.

"If it doesn't apply only to your practice then your behaviour is under scrutiny 24/7 and that's real worrisome for any of us in a profession," said Davies.

He also said Strom's comments do not fit the description of professional misconduct, and that there was evidence to support her comment about the care not being "up to speed."

He expects to file the appeal in the next week to 10 days. 

The SRNA declined to comment on Strom's case, saying the process is still ongoing.

Union weighs in

Saskatchewan Union of Nurses president Tracy Zambory believes the decision and the penalty went too far.   

"As a registered nurse, I'm a professional and we know that we have to conduct ourselves in a certain fashion but it seems like the SRNA has taken it upon themselves to look past the professionalism and delve into her personal life," said Zambory. 

"She was making comments about a loved one in a personal way and it really feels like there has been a line that's been crossed there, that they've stepped one step too far into really what their job is."  

Initial complaint

The association started looking into Strom's comments when some of the staff at St. Joseph's Health Centre in Macklin, Sask., complained that they violated her professional obligations as a nurse.

According to testimony at the discipline committee, staff felt the comments were humiliating and embarrassing.

​As part of her penalty, the SRNA has ordered Strom to write a self-reflective essay on what she did wrong, and how she will change her behaviour in the future.

She will also need to complete an online course on the Canadian Nurses Association's code of ethics.

The written decision noted the actual costs of the hearing were almost six times higher than the amount of money to be paid by Strom. The decision also said that the hearing could have been avoided through mediation, which did not happen.

Gofundme raises $11K for Strom's legal costs

Strom's case has caught the attention of a group of nurses in Quebec.

Natalie Stake-Doucet is part of a group that started a Gofundme page which has raised more than $11,000 since it was created on Wednesday.

She said the group believes the decision sets a dangerous precedent that will discourage nurses from speaking up about concerns.

"For me this is so important and so crucial; it's really, for me, it's a moral question," said Stake-Doucet.

"You can't tell nurses to provide the best care possible and to be legally responsible for the welfare of their patients and then not allow them to level any criticism against the health-care system and colleagues."