The Current

Saskatchewan nurse fights $26K fine for criticizing grandfather's care on Facebook

What happens when health care professionals are punished for speaking out about health care? For Saskatchewan nurse Carolyn Strom who criticized her grandfather's care on Facebook, it means a $26,000 fine.
Carolyn Strom was shocked to learn she was reported to the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses' Association over her Facebook post, and fined $26,000 for professional misconduct. (Facebook)

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When registered nurse Carolyn Strom took to social media to complain about the palliative care her grandfather was getting, she had no idea it would amount to a $26,000 fine.

"The fact that I have to ask people, who work in health care, to take a step back and be more compassionate, saddens me more than you know! As an RN and avid health care advocate myself, I just HAVE to speak up!" Strom writes on a private Facebook post in 2015 about her frustrations with St. Joseph's Integrated Health Centre in Macklin, Sask.

The discipline committee of the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses' Association (SRNA) found her guilty of professional misconduct in October and slapped her with the fine.

Strom's lawyer Marcus Davies said his client did what any reasonable grieving granddaughter would have done in this situation.

"She was having a discussion on her Facebook page with family and friends about a very important issue — certainly really important to her at that point in her life — which was palliative care and end of care end of life care for seniors," Davies tells The Current's guest host Dave Seglins.  
When does a personal Facebook post constitute professional misconduct?

Davies says Strom started a private discussion on her Facebook page on the topic and when an employee of the nursing home, a Facebook friend of Stom's, saw the post, she printed it out to bring into work.

"The director of the facility photocopied it, and circulated it among staff and encouraged the nurses among the staff to file a complaint." 

Strom's Facebook conversation became public when she tweeted a link to the Minister of Health Jim Reiter.

The SRNA found that Strom violated a code of ethics and claim her actions fall under professional misconduct, which Davies says is unreasonable.

"But hurt feelings apparently are are not covered by freedom of speech or section 2B of the Charter."

'A missed opportunity for the SRNA'

Registered nurse Natalie Stake-Doucet said the shocking amount fined for this "so-called offense or professional misconduct, as they call it" is outrageous. She has launched a Go-Fund me campaign which has already raised $24,000 to help pay the fine. 
A Go-Fund me campaign launched to pay Strom's fine has raised $24,000.

Stake-Doucet tells The Current that aside from the grey zones that are always part of a code of ethics, the issue here is the lack of credence given to hearing from a nurse who works in health care.

"I think this is really a missed opportunity for the SRNA where they could have opened a discussion about quality of end of life care," she says.

S​take-Doucet believes this will set a terrible precedent. 

"I'm very worried about what this says about our profession that we can't we can't even discuss criticism and it was constructive."

Entering 'dangerous territory'

Health policy analyst Steven Lewis tells The Current thousands of statements more direct and serious than Strom's comments "are no doubt voiced in the healthcare workplace every day. So I think this is pretty dangerous territory."

Lewis argues Strom wasn't a nurse in her workplace making a public complaint. 
Carolyn Strom's Facebook post criticizing her grandfather's care is 'stretching the boundaries of what might be considered unprofessional,' says Steven Lewis. (Linkedin)

"Does she not have an entitlement to voice an opinion as primarily a family member, not as an RN talking professionally about her fellow RNs."

He makes the point that the nursing profession was not mentioned in Strom's critique.

"She was talking about substandard care. She went out of her way to say that not all of the care was bad and she thanked those who provided good care," Lewis explains.

He adds that Strom didn't name anyone either.

"So again we are getting into uncharted waters here and really stretching the boundaries of what might be considered unprofessional."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins, Seher Asaf and Winnipeg network producer Suzanne Dufresne.

The Current requested an interview the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses' Association. The association declined but sent a statement:, which reads, in part: "Member-driven processes like this one are critical to upholding the privilege of profession-led regulation, and ensuring fairness to the complainants and members involved." The association also says Carolyn Strom has 30 days to appeal this decision.

The Current also requested an interview with a spokesperson from St. Joseph's Integrated Health Centre. The centre's executive director declined, writing, "This is a concern between a regulatory body and one of their members and should be left to them."