Union slams London hospital for firing head nurse

Vanessa Burkoski, the chief nursing executive at London Health Sciences Centre, was fired earlier this month. Critics of the firing suggest the move was part of a systemic attempt to silence nurses.
Linda Haslam-Stroud, RN, President, Ontario Nurses' Association. (John Maclennan/Canadian Press)

The firing of the head nurse at London Health Sciences Centre illustrates a larger systemic problem of hospital bosses trying to muzzle their staff, says the president of the Ontario Nurses Association.

Vanessa Burkoski, the former chief nursing executive at London Health Sciences was fired earlier this month after the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario released a report critical of the province's plan to replace registered nurses with cheaper, less educated health care workers.

Burkoski, who is also president of the association that produced the report, was offered a cash settlement to resign on three separate occasions, but she refused. Then the hospital's CEO Murray Glendining fired her.

"This is not uncommon," said Linda Haslam-Stroud, president of the Ontario Nurses Association. "We are seeing this across the province where nurses at many levels are being forced to be muzzled for fear of losing their positions."

Glendining did not accept a request for an interview with CBC News. Instead, he issued a written statement.

"We can confirm that Vanessa Burkoski is no longer an employee at London Health Sciences Centre," he wrote, "LHSC does not comment on any personnel matters."

Replacing RNs

Rising healthcare costs, coupled with minimal or no government funding increases, in recent years, have put pressure on hospitals to slash budgets, Haslam-Stroud said.

To cut costs, several hospitals have opted to replace registered nurses with less expensive registered practical nurses. Nurses have been protesting the moves, saying much of the nurse swapping is occurring in acute care hospitals, where patients have critical and complex needs.

"Even our front line nurses are concerned now about speaking out for fear of having even something such as not getting the schedule they requested or not getting the job they posted into," Haslam-Stroud said.