GoFundMe campaign covers nurse's fine, but should it ever be paid?

James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

The saga of nurse Carolyn Strom has been one of our most popular over the last six months. She is, of course, the Canadian who vented about her grandparents' healthcare on Facebook and has been fined for it.

McKnight's readers have gobbled up the various updates, and left dozens of comments. Most of them have been indignant that Strom is being punished at all for speaking her mind.

Like-minded folks, possibly including McKnight's readers, have added the latest twist to the story. In less than two weeks, a GoFundMe campaign collected more than $26,000 in pledges to cover 100% of Strom's fine.

Just like the comments under superb articles written by my colleague Emily Mongan, the fundraising has been driven by angry, fearful nurses. They wonder: If they can't comment on matters they see as inappropriate — even, as in Strom's case, when they're not talking about their own employers or a situation in their own geographic area — what other rights must they forfeit?

Keep in mind, we're not talking a flameout of Trumpian proportions here. Strom's big offense apparently was hurting the feelings of nurses in charge of her grandparents' care. On Facebook and Twitter, she rued her grandparents' care by saying his caregivers apparently weren't “up to speed” on best practices and did know enough to “help maintain an aging senior's dignity.”

If she hadn't emphasized her own R.N. credential, or if somebody else had leveled the tepid criticism, the entire fiasco might have been avoided. Instead, nurses at the facility in question filed a complaint with a quasi-governmental nurses association because they said they were humiliated and embarrassed.

The matter next goes before a Canadian judge. Strom's lawyers could have appealed to the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association, but that's the government-supported group whose disciplinary committee levied the fine in the first place. (For the record, Strom's actual penalty is $1,000; the other $25,000 is to help defray the cost of a hearing the SRNA conducted.)

But there are other ways she must pay. In addition to helping reimburse for what might have been a wholly unnecessary hearing, Strom has to complete an online course on the Canadian Nurses Association's code of ethics.She also has to write an essay analyzing what she did wrong and telling how she'll act differently in the future. 

There's no word yet on whether she'll also have to write, “I will not hurt other nurses' feelings,” 100 times on the chalkboard or clap out the erasers after school each day.

Strom claimed she shouldn't have to pay anything because the dispute could have been resolved with a consensual resolution agreement, which doesn't require a $150,000 hearing. (Yes, you read that number right.) In its decree, the SRNA's disciplinary committee declined to rule on who was at fault for not pursuing or agreeing to a much tidier consensual resolution agreement.

Showing a bit more backbone, or perhaps trying to show it had a merciful side, the disciplinary committee declined to issue a $30,000 fine, as the SRNA investigation committee had wanted. The disciplinarians noted that Strom had showed accountability for her actions. Hmmm, accountability but not but just not the message somebody liked? There are, no doubt, complex professional ethics questions mixed into this equation, but nurses this side of the border whom I talked to about it had a tough time figuring out how Strom's relatively benign comments could be similarly punished in the U.S. 

It's agreed she could have probably spared herself some grief if she had dealt more directly with her grandparents' caregivers instead of resorting to social media. But that still skirts the issue of how this would have been handled if she would not have touted her medical credential, or if another family member had issued the same, or harsher, criticisms. 

Also not to be overlooked is the fact that this has become a huge platform for commenters in social and mainstream media to cast aspersions about nursing care everywhere. 

I “get” that medical professionals must often adhere to fairly stringent standards, ethics and codes. But the prospect of being restricted by what you say 24/7/365, no matter where you are or whether you are commenting on a personal level about a loved one or with particular clinical insight, seems too big a burden to bear.

Should a $26,000 fine have to be paid? No, and a judge or the government officers who oversee the SRNA can act to make this right.

Stay tuned.

Follow James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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