Nurse Strom and the comment section conundrum

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Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

It's very fitting, and not at all surprising to me, that a story on social media comments has stirred up some of most intense reader response I've seen on this site in a while.

If you're out of the loop, or just having a particularly hectic holiday season, let me refresh your memory. Last week we wrote about Carolyn Strom, a registered nurse in Canada who is currently facing disciplinary action for what the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses' Association deemed “professional misconduct.”

Strom posted some critical thoughts on a relative's care in a nursing home where she was not an employee. Nursing staff at the facility saw the comments, took offense and filed report with the SRNA.

In their ruling, the association's disciplinary committee assured nurses that finding Strom guilty was not meant as a way to “muzzle” her or other nurses; they just expect nurses to “conduct themselves professionally and with care when communicating on social media.” They also noted that Strom failed to take her concerns to the facility's management first before airing them out in public.

The main issue here, and the heart of SRNA's ruling, boils down to what “hat” Strom was wearing when she posted the comments to her personal Facebook and Twitter accounts. Yes, her post was about her experiences as the relative of a resident. But in those posts she identifies herself as a registered nurse, which is sufficient enough evidence, according to the SNRA, to connect her postings to her position as a nurse — a position governed by the guidelines set in place by the nursing association.

But are those guidelines clear enough? No, according to a petition that's since been anonymously filed against the SNRA's ruling.

The social media post in this case wasn't something meant to make fun of a resident in a vulnerable situation, as we've written about in the past. It was a concerned loved one, who happened to be employed as a nurse, taking to the internet to share her frustrations of an “ongoing struggle” since “not much else seems to be working.”

To me, the arguments offered by the SNRA on Strom's identifying herself as an RN in her post get murkier the farther you read into the ruling. Perhaps Strom failed to follow the “proper channels” of airing her grievances — but is the proper channel for the nursing staff on the receiving end of those comments to immediately call for disciplinary action against her because they felt embarrassed?

As a spoiler alert, I do not have a definitive answer to how anyone should have handled this situation. Skilled nursing facilities and their employees frequently find themselves on the receiving end of not-so-nice comments on outlets like Yelp and Facebook, from people who have a limited view of the work they do. And nursing associations such as the SNRA likely issue the policies they do to preserve the reputation of their profession in an age full of uncertainty surrounding social media use.

In my ideal scenario the staff at the facility who were called out in Strom's comment, while understandably a bit hurt, would recognize that the feedback was not malicious and was written by someone who has both been on the family side and walked in their shoes as a healthcare provider. The situation could have been remedied privately, with both parties meeting to talk out their concerns as professionals, instead of a controversial disciplinary hearing published online for strangers to debate.

While we're still waiting on the SNRA's final decision on Strom's penalty, I think this case has opened an important dialogue on our responsibilities to our profession and what we post to sites like Facebook, Twitter, or even McKnight's. It's a topic that's never been more relevant in a time when anyone — and I really mean anyone — can take to the internet and post what they want, even if it clashes with their job (or, in one very famous case, soon-to-be job).

So keep posting online, and making your voices heard. It's what social media and comment sections are there for, after all. Just be cognizant of whom your words may reach, and what hat you're wearing when you write them.

Follow Emily Mongan @emmongan.


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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 Marty Stempniak.