Members of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO) say the outcome of a case involving a nurse who blew the whistle on an incident of resident abuse at a Cornwall nursing home is precedent setting and places the onus on home operators everywhere to ensure all allegations are thoroughly investigated and reported.
In the case, the City of Cornwall was fined for retaliating against an RN who pursued the matter at Glen Stor Dun Lodge after she became aware of it in May 2008.
At the time, Diane Shay, an RN who worked as a health and safety officer for the City of Cornwall, wanted to be sure that the nursing home followed up on its legal obligation to report the incident to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Instead, Shay found herself the victim of harassment and retaliation from her supervisor and was subsequently terminated from her job for sounding the alarm.
After a civil suit, Shay was reinstated. The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care then laid charges against the city and the retaliating supervisor. Yesterday, the City of Cornwall pleaded guilty and was fined $15,000 plus $3,750 for victim support.
"As an operator of this home, the City of Cornwall had a legal obligation to deal with a serious incident. When it failed to do so, Ms. Shay did the right thing and stood up for the rights of residents who deserve dignity and protection. This is an important decision for nurses and the people we care for. It enables us to speak out and protect residents without fear of retaliation," says Doris Grinspun, executive director of RNAO.
Shay's lawyer, Fay Brunning, says the case "shows that employers will be convicted and that managers who breach the law will at least be named for retaliatory conduct." She says the law has been strengthened to give employees such as her client real protection from retaliation and abuse of power by wrongfully minded managers. "Reinstatement is now a possibility."
RNAO's president David McNeil says the case also sends a message to operators of long-term care homes that a zero tolerance approach to abuse is necessary. "This is an issue that needs to be brought out into the open and with a greater focus on prevention."
The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario is the professional association representing registered nurses in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has advocated for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses' contribution to shaping the health-care system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve.