Appeal Court quashes fine against Saskatchewan nurse who made critical Facebook post

Saskatchewan’s highest court has overruled a disciplinary decision and a $26,000 fine levied against a nurse who criticized her grandfather’s care on Facebook.

The Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association had made a finding of professional misconduct against Carolyn Strom, a registered nurse from Prince Albert.

“Criticism of the health-care system is manifestly in the public interest,” Justice Brian Barrington-Foote wrote in the decision released Tuesday.

“Such criticism, even by those delivering those services, does not necessarily undermine public confidence in health-care workers or the health-care system. Indeed, it can enhance confidence.”

A few weeks after her grandfather’s death in 2015, Strom wrote on Facebook that some unnamed staff at his long-term care facility in Macklin were not up to speed on delivering end-of-life care. She also added a link to a newspaper article on the issue.

“I challenge the people involved in decision-making with that facility to please get All Your Staff a refresher on the topic And More … to those who made Grandpa’s last years less than desirable, Please Do Better Next Time!” one comment read.

Some nurses at the facility reported the post. The nurses association found Strom guilty of professional misconduct in 2016 and ordered her to pay the hefty financial penalty.

The association’s lawyer had argued before the Appeal Court that Strom personally attacked an identifiable group without attempting to get all the facts about her grandfather’s care.

It was suggested that Canadians would lose trust in the health-care system if nurses could say what they wanted about medical establishments online based on how they felt on a particular day.

The justice ruled that criticism of health care is in the public interest and can bring positive change when it comes from front-line workers.

“The fact that public confidence in aspects of the health-care system may suffer as a result of fair criticism can itself result in positive change,” Barrington-Foote wrote.

The disciplinary decision “would effectively preclude (nurses) from using their unique knowledge and professional credibility to publicly advance important issues relating to long-term care,” he added.

Barrington-Foote also ruled that Strom’s freedom of expression was infringed upon and that she had a right to criticize the care her grandfather received.

The judge said his ruling did not include any findings specific to the care Strom’s grandfather received or on the training of staff at the facility.

(Canadian Press)

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