Bad News on Patient Safety from Ontario

Doris Grinspun head of the RNAO just sent me this article about the firing of a Chief Nurse who spoke out to protect patients.  Any Canadian nurse reading this should immediately join the protest.

The only good news here is that nurses are protesting this.

An Ontario nursing group contends Vanessa Burkoski was fired to silence her about changes affecting patient safety

By Jonathan Sher, The London Free Press

Vanessa Burkoski, past president of the RNAO (Postmedia Network)

Vanessa Burkoski, past president of the RNAO (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.



The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario says the chief executive of London’s largest hospital sacked its chief nurse because she was the public face of a report critical of hospitals. Here’s a summary of the report:

“In an effort to cut costs, health organizations across the province are replacing registered nurses with less qualified care providers . . . the RN share of the nursing work force has dropped significantly in recent years. This has left Ontario’s health system unprepared to meet rising levels of acuity in hospitals and in the community, and put the safety of Ontarians at risk.”

Showing 2 comments
  • Stan Squires

    I am from Vancouver,Canada and I wanted to say that Vanessa Burkoski should be supported by the Nurses Union in London Ont.What happened to her is an insult to all nurses in Canada.It shows that the Health System in Canada is in trouble and needs to be a lot better than it is.Nurses at the London Health Sciences Centre should take to the streets and demonstrate in support of Vanessa Burkoski.She should be hired back as soon as possible.

  • David Wheeler

    dThere is trouble in paradise if nursing is not respected as an asset not a liability. Vanessa Burkoski should be returned to her position with back pay.

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