Advertisement

Some Alberta nurses worry proposed social media policy would muzzle health advocacy and criticism

Surgeon and nurse walking and talking in hospital corridor.
Surgeon and nurse walking and talking in hospital corridor. File/Getty Images

The United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) has concerns with proposed rules its governing college has drafted regarding social media standards for nurses.

The College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CARNA) says one of its jobs — under the Health Professions Act (HPA) — is to produce standards of practice to help members in different work situations.

Read more: Health-care workers walk off the job in wildcat strikes across Alberta: AUPE

David Kay, chief professional conduct officer for CARNA, said the college posted a draft social media policy for nurses on Sept. 30 for consultation.

“CARNA supports the HPA process that invites regulated members, stakeholders such as AHS, Covenant Health, unions and the public to provide their insight on the drafts,” Kay explained in an email to Global News.

Story continues below advertisement

“CARNA takes the consultation process seriously.

“The comment process is typically 30 days. When the consultation process is over, CARNA considers all the comments received, reviews them and makes revisions, as necessary.”

Read more: Alberta finance minister accuses nurses’ union of trying to ‘take advantage of a health crisis’

But the union, which represents more than 30,000 registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses and allied workers in Alberta, has raised several issues with the proposed social media standards.

UNA spokesperson Cameron Westhead says the union “strongly opposes them” and is worried about their impacts on nurses’ freedom of speech and the ability to advocate for good health policy.

The draft policy reads, in part, that when using social media during online conduct, the member must:

  • Post only professional and ethical content;
  • Not post opinions, comments or information that could harm a client, person, employer, another health professional, colleague or organization;
  • Review past online presence and remove any posts that could be considered unprofessional, controversial or problematic;
  • Not post opinions, comments or information that could harm their reputation or that of a member, the college or the profession;
  • Direct any complaints about a client, person, employer, another health colleague, organization, regulated member, the regulatory college or the profession through appropriate channels;
  • Cease any online activity and remove any online content that could negatively impact the public’s perception of or trust in the regulated member or the profession.

But the nurses union argues the new standards are “an intrusive overreach.”

Story continues below advertisement
The UNA says the social media rules would likely “place a chill on the willingness of nurses to lend their knowledge and experience to be advocates within public discourse on policies surrounding health and the socioeconomic determinants of health [that are] not in the public interest.”
Click to play video 'War of words between United Nurses of Alberta and province over collective bargaining' War of words between United Nurses of Alberta and province over collective bargaining
War of words between United Nurses of Alberta and province over collective bargaining – Oct 9, 2020

“The draft social media standards conflict with the right of nurses to freedom of expression, a right that was recently affirmed by the courts in the Strom decision,” UNA said.

“As per this decision, criticism of the health-care system by front-line workers is in the public interest and should not be unreasonably restricted as these draft standards attempt to do.

Story continues below advertisement

“Any social media standards must take into account the implications of this court decision.”

Read more: Saskatchewan Court of Appeal quashes fine against nurse who made critical Facebook post

A few weeks after her grandfather’s death in 2015, Carolyn Strom, a registered nurse from Prince Albert, Sask., wrote on Facebook that some unnamed staff at his long-term care facility in Macklin, Sask., were not up to speed on delivering end-of-life care. Strom made the post as a private citizen but the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association found her guilty of professional misconduct.

However, on Oct. 6, 2020, Saskatchewan’s highest court overruled the disciplinary decision and the $26,000 fine levied against Strom. The judge ruled that criticism of the health care system is in the public interest and when it comes from frontline workers it can bring positive change.

Click to play video 'Saskatchewan Court of Appeal quashes fine against nurse who made critical Facebook post' Saskatchewan Court of Appeal quashes fine against nurse who made critical Facebook post
Saskatchewan Court of Appeal quashes fine against nurse who made critical Facebook post – Oct 6, 2020

In a letter to CARNA, the union shared its “serious concerns with the draft standards,” saying they “inappropriately extend into the personal lives of nurses to restrict their freedom of expression” and would “severely restrict the ability of nurses to fulfill their duty to advocate for quality practice environments and meet the professional obligations set out in the foundational practice standard indicators and CNA code of ethics.”

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: Alberta nurses’ union calls on AHS to bring back paid leave as COVID-19 pandemic continues

The letter, signed by UNA president Heather Smith, says:

“While CARNA has the responsibility to protect the public from harm, fulfilling this duty must be balanced with ensuring that CARNA is not unnecessarily and unreasonably restricting the rights of their members.

“UNA suggests that the social media standards are unnecessary given that unprofessional conduct can already be addressed through existing practice standards.

“Given that nurses have a professional obligation to question health policy, advocate for improvements to practice environments and have a charter right to express themselves, barriers to these must be carefully avoided.”

Click to play video 'Toews and Shandro say they won’t lay off Alberta nurses during pandemic' Toews and Shandro say they won’t lay off Alberta nurses during pandemic
Toews and Shandro say they won’t lay off Alberta nurses during pandemic – Mar 13, 2020

Members of the nursing college had until Oct. 25 to provide feedback on the proposed changes.

Story continues below advertisement

Kay would not say how much feedback CARNA received on the issue, but said: “CARNA will ensure the feedback being obtained is given thoughtful review and consideration.”

He said it would be “premature” to provide a date for when the proposed standards might be implemented.