The disturbing sound of silence

The SRNA’s relentless attack on Carolyn Strom for the last two years has so far felt like a dramatic comedy. Their reaction to her critique of the quality of care her grandfather received in his final days has made us alternatively laugh, at the ridiculousness of the arguments of the SRNA, and cry, at the violence with which they dragged this case along. We were – and still are – deeply troubled, angered and saddened by what Carolyn Strom has had to go through. At the same time, during our informal little meetings over social media PR strategy we often laughed out loud at the SRNA’s abysmal mediocrity. We were then overwhelmed by the kindness and solidarity of the public response toward the GoFundMe campaign and elated to help gather that much money for Carolyn.

But now with more insight we can start to balance what was gained and what was lost in the battle, even if it’s not over yet. What was gained is quite straightforward. All those who rallied at Carolyn’s side showed that together nurses, health care professionals, citizens and unions can stand in the way of blind authoritarianism from nursing institutions having trouble moving out of the 19th century. The SRNA wanted to set a precedent and make an example. Then, mark our words, a precedent was indeed set, but it was the SRNA that lost where it really matters for a professional regulation body: in their members’ hearts and in the public opinion. They now have two options: change or become an irrelevant historical artefact.

What was lost is harder to measure but much more significant. The SRNA’s vindictiveness has caused serious collateral damage. All mainstream media, from Andre Picard in the Globe and Mail to pieces in the National Post, CBC and the SK Star Phoenix rightfully smashed to smithereens SRNA’s position. But seen from a national perspective, those legitimate and well-deserved critiques didn’t only bring into question SRNA’s relevance but the competence and relevance of nursing bodies in general.

Those nursing associations and colleges that tried their best to do as if nothing was happening will need to rethink their values and priorities. Their deafening silence revealed how much they’re disconnected from the realities of their membership and broader social expectations. The credibility of all nursing organizations was harmed through the actions of the SRNA, but the harm done through their silence belongs to them. The fact some of them don’t even seem to realize the scope of the current damage makes it even more worrisome.

Because acting as though nothing was going on doesn’t make the problem disappear. Those nursing associations and colleges need to realize that everybody witnessed the public relations disaster the SRNA created. From caregivers to politicians and public opinion, everybody realized nursing associations and colleges were not standing where and when they should have.

When a health professional notices a serious problem with care quality or safety and raises the issue, the top priority for regulation bodies should be to address the problem at once. Pondering over how and where the message was delivered can be discussed and best practices encouraged but this is a secondary consideration. The SRNA made a frankly astounding pan-Canadian demonstration of how poorly they understood that their core business is care safety and quality.

There have been several calls – both from citizens and nurses – for SRNA to justify how their sanction against Ms. Strom protects the interests of the public, yet none of them have been answered. SRNA’s “stand-your-ground” attitude can only be interpreted in three ways: they cannot provide such justification; they cannot re-evaluate their decision-making process by engaging in the very self-reflective process that they, themselves, demand from nurses; they are not interested in rendering any form of account to the public.

The silence steadfastly displayed by some nursing institutions and the time it took for others to catch-up with the tide sadly shows the SRNA isn’t alone having its priorities wrong. This is both sad and damaging for the nursing profession. Canadians and their health-care system would benefit if nurses played a more important, proactive and advanced role. For this to happen, we need strong, intelligent and vocal nursing institutions. What we have just witnessed was the exact opposite.

(in alphabetical order)

Jaimie Carrier
Damien Contandriopoulos
Caroline Dufour
Marilou Gagnon
Émilie Hudson
Anne Lardeux
Amélie Perron
Natalie Stake-Doucet

Published jointly with Chaire Pocosa here.

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