Nurses deserve right to criticize health system: legal expert
A Saskatchewan law professor says he’s disappointed with a recent court ruling that some say takes away a nurse’s right to criticize the health care system.
In 2015, Carolyn Strom, a nurse from Prince Albert, wrote a Facebook post criticizing what she called the “subpar care” her dying grandfather received at a local care facility.
She didn’t name the staff at the facility but she said they weren’t “up to speed” on end-of-life care, or on how to maintain a patient’s dignity.
Her post caught the attention of nurses at the facility, who complained to the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association.
After an investigation, an SRNA disciplinary committee found Strom guilty of professional misconduct. It said Strom’s comments violated the Registered Nurses’ Act by harming the reputation of nursing staff at the facility and undermining the public’s confidence in the staff.
Strom argued that the SRNA’s code of ethics did not apply to her Facebook post because she was not acting as a nurse when she wrote her post.
The committee disagreed and fined her $26,000.
Strom appealed to a Saskatchewan court, asking it to decide whether the disciplinary committee’s ruling was within its powers.
Last month, a judge dismissed the appeal, saying he could find no reason to interfere with the committee’s decision, and that the fine Strom received fell within “a range of possible, acceptable outcomes.”
The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions immediately criticized that decision, saying it will “contribute to the silencing of nurses as individuals and health professionals.” It also argued that regulatory bodies such as the SRNA “must not be empowered to prevent nurses from speaking up as individuals.”
Ken Norman, a professor of law at the University of Saskatchewan, is disappointed with the decision for the same reasons.
“We think there’s an injustice here on a couple of levels,” he told CTV’s Your Morning Monday from Saskatoon.
“The first is that expression in the public interest is vital, especially for health care professionals to be able to raise a question about sub-care treatment.”
He says that Strom’s criticism was balanced and restrained and that everyone, particularly those who know the health care system well, should be free to offer criticism without fear of being “muzzled.”
Norman believes the SRNA committee was more concerned with its own self-interest than the public interest, and that outweighed Strom’s freedom of expression.
Though Strom’s legal team argued their client should have been free to express her anger, the judge wrote that freedom of expression was not the focus of the case; instead, it was about whether the court needed to interfere with the committee’s decision.
Norman disagrees with the court’s decision not to intervene.
“The court, following precedent, thought it had to show deference to the nursing profession, and we think that in a case like this, expression trumps self-interest,” he said.
“…We think this is a case where deference wasn’t due.”
Last Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal that would have it review its decision on how the courts should review the disciplinary actions of regulatory bodies.