New Brunswick

Violence and threats, negligence, insubordination led to discipline at troubled hospital

Employee behaviour prompted disciplinary measures at least 54 times at Restigouche Hospital Centre since August 2016.

Employee behaviour prompted disciplinary measures at least 54 times at Restigouche Hospital Centre 

Provincial ombud Charles Murray delivered his report on the Restigouche Hospital Centre to the legislature's procedure, privileges and legislative officers committee on Feb. 7. (CBC)

Employee behaviour prompted disciplinary measures at least 54 times at Restigouche Hospital Centre since August 2016. The measures included seven dismissals, according to figures obtained by CBC News through access to information.

The figures, which are current as of July, show the reasons for employee discipline are varied.

They range from violence and threats, to negligence, insubordination, illegal practices, absenteeism, disloyalty, incompetence, offences related to health and safety at work, rude and vulgar language, breach of confidentiality and non-compliance with policies or procedures. 

But the details of what happened in each incident — and whether any patients were affected negatively as a result — are being kept secret by Vitalité Health Network.

The health authority says disclosing the circumstances of each incident could be an unreasonable invasion of a third party's privacy.

The records also don't provide definitions for each of the reasons cited for discipline, or show whether the same employee was disciplined more than once.

Ombud Charles Murray, who released a scathing report on "mistreatment and inadequate care" at the Restigouche Hospital Centre this past winter, believes the number of incidents are likely underreported.

"We had management at the institution tell us there were a number of cases in which they would have taken measures, but they were concerned that would leave them short-staffed or that they were just overwhelmed with other problems," Murray said in an interview.

"So they decided to just let the matter pass rather than deal with it."

At least 54 employees at the Restigouche Hospital Centre have been disciplined since August 2016, records show. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Vitalité provided a chart showing the reasons why employees have been disciplined, and then a list of different disciplinary measures on a separate chart.

That means it's impossible to tell what seven Restigouche Hospital Centre employees did to lose their jobs.

No one from Vitalité Health Network was made available for an interview on Tuesday.

In an email, a Vitalité spokesperson said the health authority would not "comment on individual human resources matters."

Warnings, suspensions

Thirty warnings of some kind were issued to employees, including written or verbal, the records show. There were 13 suspensions issued, ranging in duration from one to five days. 

Discipline for incidents was listed as "to be determined," while one employee received an administrative dismissal.

The most common reason for discipline was not respecting policies or procedures, with 16 disciplinary measures issued for doing that. That's followed by 13 incidents of insubordination.

Insubordination was the most common alleged behaviour to trigger employee discipline at the Restigouche Hospital Centre, documents show. (CBC)

There were three incidents of violence and threats, and six of using vulgar or rude language.

Another three incidents were about disloyalty, something that concerned Murray. He said he would like to see the details of those disciplinary cases.

"One of the things that has been suggested from time to time is that speaking out about the reality of the situation there is an act of disloyalty," Murray said.

"I can understand where that perspective comes from. But you have to have a corresponding willingness inside the organization to hear people's complaints and concerns."

Murray pointed to the fact that his investigation was prompted by an anonymous letter, which he believes was written by a current or former employee at the hospital.

"If there had been channels inside for their concerns to be addressed, maybe they would never have written to us."

'Symptoms of a deep cultural problem'

While Murray said violence by staff would be "at the extreme end of conduct," he said all of the behaviours that prompted discipline are "symptoms of a deep cultural problem."

"I think the understaffing and the failure to have proper clinical teams in place has created a culture there where a lot of people are in sort of survival behaviours or they are treating the institution more like a penal institution than it is an institution of health and healing," he said.

Ombud Charles Murray says some of the categories of employee discipline at Restigouche Hospital Centre are 'symptoms of a deep cultural problem.' (Radio-Canada)

"And so their behaviours reflect that reality. You need to change that if you want the behaviours to change."

Since Murray released his report in February, a proposed class-action lawsuit has been launched over alleged negligence at the hospital.

Last week, the family of Martin Michaud said he was failed by the care he received at the hospital before his death on Feb. 9, just two days after Murray released his report.

Martin Michaud, shown right, died Feb. 9, 2019 at the Restigouche Hospital Centre in Campbellton. His family question whether his death could have been prevented. (Radio-Canada)

The ombud has maintained that he is still concerned about what's happening at the Restigouche Hospital Centre, which saw its staffing levels reach a "danger" level as recently as the fall.

Murray said he hopes both his report and one written by a consultant in the spring will force a "hard reset" on culture at the centre.

"Vitalité has been aware of this now for a couple of years and has been trying to change this reality," Murray said.

"But it's hard. Cultural change is hard."

About the Author

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.