A post to social media has a Prince Albert, Sask. nurse facing charges of professional misconduct by the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses' Association.
Carolyn Strom's grandfather died in January 2015. The following month she posted a comment to Facebook both criticizing and applauding the efforts made by the palliative care staff at St. Joseph's Health Facility in Macklin, Sask., about 250 kilometres west of Saskatoon.
"My grandfather spent a week in palliative care before he died and after hearing about his and my family's experience there, it is evident that not everyone is 'up to speed' on how to approach end of life care or how to help maintain an ageing senior's dignity," wrote Strom in her post.
"I challenge the people involved in decision making with that facility to please get all your staff a refresher on this topic and more. Don't get me wrong, 'some' people have provided excellent care so I thank you so very much for your efforts, but to those who made Grandpa's last years less than desirable, please do better next time," she added.
Strom went on to caution those with loved ones in a health-care facility to keep an eye on their family members, and to ask people who work in health care to be more compassionate.
"As an RN [registered nurse] and avid health care advocate myself, I just have to speak up," wrote Strom. "Whatever reasons/excuses people give for not giving quality of life care, I do not care. It just needs to be fixed."
Saskatoon lawyer weighs in
Her comments were posted on Feb. 25, 2015 to Facebook, and since then, Strom has been reported to the SRNA by another nurse, and distant relative of Strom's, working at St. Joseph's.
According to the public notice of hearing, the SRNA is charging Strom with violation of confidentiality, failure to follow proper channels, impact on reputation of facility and staff, failure to first obtain all the facts, and using status of registered nurse of personal purposes under the Code of Ethics for Registered Nurses.
'What happens to the discussion of health care if you take the people who are experts on that subject and remove them from the discussion?' - Marcus Davies
"She was advocating for better care for the elderly and people in long-term care" said Strom's lawyer Marcus Davies. "I guess in 30, 40 or 50 years, that will be to her own advantage but it will also be for mine, yours and everybody else's."
He said the code of ethics was too vaguely worded for any charges to be laid.
"I don't think the SRNA knows the rules and regulations [around sharing on social media] and I think they're using Carolyn to try and figure them out, to be honest," said Davies.
He said Strom had agreed to a sentence which included writing five different essays for the SRNA on social media and ethics, but when presented with a statement of facts by the association, Strom refused to sign the document.
Davies said when Strom countered with a statement of facts that she believed to be true, the SRNA refused it, taking the matter to a public disciplinary hearing.
No comment from SRNA
"The SRNA cannot comment on any one case until there is a final result," wrote the SRNA when asked about Strom's case. "This is our duty to fairness to the process for the individual and the discipline committee. An individual has a right of appeal to council or to Court of Queen's Bench so the SRNA cannot comment on a specific case."
"In my mind, this is very chilling for any of us practicing in a self-regulating profession because what this stands to do is remove people, professionals, from discussions in various areas in which they are experts," said Davies. "For example, here is a discussion of healthcare – nurses aren't allowed to enter, doctors aren't allowed to enter. What happens to the discussion of health care if you take the people who are experts on that subject and remove them from the discussion?"
Davies said, if found guilty,Strom could pay a significant price — including her licence and her ability to practice.
Her disciplinary hearing is scheduled for next month in Regina.
The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses is not commenting on the case because it is under investigation.