Chief nurse in London health centre fired for exposing safety maladies at Ontario hospitals, association says

Postmedia News | June 20, 2016 1:20 PM ET


Vanessa Burkowski, former CNO of London Health Sciences Centre, was fired for researching and exposing the risks of replacing nurses with less qualified employees to care for patients. Photo credit Postmedia Network.

The boss of London’s largest hospital has sacked his chief nurse to stop her from speaking out against changes that put patients across Ontario in harm’s way, the head of a powerful nursing association claims.

Murray Glendining, chief executive of London Health Sciences Centre, tried to buy the silence of his chief nursing officer, Vanessa Burkoski, offering her cash if she would resign quietly, but she refused and was fired, Doris Grinspun, chief executive of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO), said Friday.

“It’s the most disgraceful thing I’ve seen in my 20 years at RNAO,” Grinspun told The Free Press.

Glendining fired Burkoski not for her work at the London hospital, where she received stellar reviews, served as a vice president and looked after safety and quality of care, but because she was serving as president of the RNAO when in May it produced a report that exposed how Ontario hospitals had harmed patients by replacing registered nurses with cheaper and less educated health care workers, Grinspun said.

Glendining isn’t the first Ontario hospital boss to try to muzzle hospitals’ top nurses, Grinspun said.

“Patients suffer the consequences because chief nurses are the safety valves,” she said. “We are outraged about this level of intimidation of nurses by CEOs who treat their hospitals like private organizations.”

But the London hospital boss went further by firing a nurse whose leadership in Ontario was almost unrivaled — before coming to London in 2011, Burkoski was the longest-serving provincial chief nursing officer, advising three Ontario health ministers.

“(Burkoski) is a person of stellar integrity, judgment and experience,” Grinspun said. “(Her firing) is just unconscionable.”

Asked by The Free Press about Grinspun’s concerns, Glendining sent a brief email: “We can confirm that Vanessa Burkoski is no longer an employee at London Health Sciences Centre. LHSC does not comment on any personnel matters.”

But Burkoski spoke to The Free Press about what she says happened — she says she was called into Glendining’s office June 8 to discuss the report produced by RNAO, called Mind the Safety Gap.

When she arrived, she said, she was met by Glendining and his vice-president for human resources, Stephen Coulahan and offered a cash settlement if she would resign. When Burkoski refused, she said the two men asked her to reconsider, then meet with them again Monday.

Two more times, Burkoski said, she refused to resign with a cash settlement. “After three requests for my gracious exit, they asked me if I understood what a termination meant in terms of (my) reputation,” she said.

Glendining fired her, and then on Tuesday, sent to senior hospital leaders a vague email to announce that Burkoski was gone.

“Vanessa Burkoski, Chief Nursing Executive, and Vice President, Professional Scholarly Practice is no longer with London Health Sciences Centre. We thank her for her contributions and wish her the best,” the hospital boss wrote in an email obtained by The Free Press.

The sudden departure and terse note left some wondering if Burkoski had done something untoward or even illegal, Grinspun said.
Under Grinspun’s leadership, the RNAO, which is not a union, has played a growing role — she led the successful push to get the province to scrap costly home care bureaucracies, called community care access centres.

The Free Press tried to reach Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins, but a spokesperson said he was unavailable Friday.

Nurses’ union at Presence Saint Joseph in Joliet files complaint about ‘boot camp’

Originally published: Monday, June 20, 2016 10:40 p.m. CDT
The Joliet Herald-News

JOLIET – The nurses’ union at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center is objecting to a recent “boot camp” training it described as humiliating.

The emergency room training, according to the union, included forcing nurses to drink water without access to restrooms. The union said the training was disciplinary after certain patient satisfaction scores.

Hospital officials issued a statement saying participants found the training “a positive and productive experience.”

Chris Martin, spokesman with the Illinois Nurses Association, disagreed.

“The nurses view it as a punitive and humiliating experience,” he said.

The INA, which represents nurses at the hospital, has filed a petition with hospital management contending that the training session violated scheduling provisions in the union contract.

 “I think they’re looking for better dialogue on these kinds of matters going forward,” Martin said.

The INA put out a news release announcing the complaint and called for better collaboration to fix problems.

“I think our time and money would be well spent if the hospital leadership collaborated with the physicians to increase our throughput times since many complaints are regarding the ridiculous wait times our patients experience,” emergency room nurse Lisa Simmering said in the news release.

Another activity, according to the news release, had nurses sitting on a bedpan in a patient bed for 30 minutes in a public hallway while wearing goggles and headphones to simulate poor vision and hearing.

The hospital statement said nurses “are held in the highest esteem.”

“Overwhelming feedback from participants in the recent Emergency Department training was that it was a positive and productive experience, providing new best practice insights that they are eager to implement with our patients,” the hospital statement said.