I can’t volunteer in silence

For the first time, I am writing a letter to the editor as I now realize how quickly this freedom can be taken away.

For the first time, I am writing a letter to the editor as I now realize how quickly this freedom can be taken away.

Up to now I have written directly to the premier, ministers Ron Liepert and Mary Anne Jablonski and Cal Dallas MLA (Red Deer South) regarding my concerns at the overall state of the health care system, with particular emphasis on its effect upon seniors.

However, I recently received a copy of the new Code of Conduct issued by Alberta Health Services and sent to all hospital employees including physicians, nurses, dietitians pharmacists and many others.

I fell into the group of “many others” as a volunteer (knitting program) with the RDRHC.

Having read this new Code of Conduct, I had my name removed from the volunteer list. Had I not done this I would not have had the freedom to write a letter to the editor to express my concerns about the reorganization and the cuts made to the health care system.

Had I accepted this Code of Conduct, I would have been gagged as are all employees and others associated with Alberta Health Services.

Under Public Statements in the new code (which can be found on the AHS website): “Public statements on behalf of Alberta Health Services are only to be made by a designated spokesperson. If you are approached by the news media to provide information and/or interviews concerning Alberta Health Services’ practices or operations immediately refer all such requests to the Communications Department. . . . It is important to exercise caution at all times and to choose your words carefully when engaging in any form of public speaking. . . . If you write for publication or in any other public forum you must ensure that any Alberta Health Services patient, employee or business is not disclosed and that confidential documents are not made available to unauthorized persons.”

What does this mean?

The health care professional organizations already have effective codes of ethics.

During all my years of active nursing, I adhered to my professional code of ethics and conduct regarding the confidentiality and privacy of patients and health personnel. The new Code of Conduct is an insult not only to the nursing profession but to all health professionals who follow their respective associations’ code of ethics and conduct.

I also find it an insult to my personal integrity.

What is new in this Code of Conduct is the warning about criticizing business practices.

Does this mean that a person working in the health care system does not have the right to speak out openly on patient care, staff ratios and any other relevant factors affecting the delivery of health care services?

Another area in this Code of Conduct that I find unacceptable is that Alberta Health Services has engaged an external Reporting and Disclosure Service (telephone number given).

It says: “If you are unwilling to report any reasonable suspicions that a fellow employee’s conduct violates the Code of Conduct to your supervisor or the ethics and compliance officer, you may report your suspicions to the external confidential reporting and disclosure service.”

A further statement related to the above assures the reporting employee “that whenever requested or feasible efforts will be made to keep your identity confidential — provided you have acted in good faith there will be no repercussions to your employment as a result of bringing forward your concerns or enquiry regardless of the outcome of any investigation.”

How do you think this affects the morale and trusting relationships in the working environment? Why is Alberta Health Services so afraid of any criticism?

I strongly believe in the democratic process and it scares me to see how easily free speech can be taken away from thousands of Albertans involved in the health care system.

I can assure the premier and appropriate ministers that they will be getting more letters from me. I hope that many more Albertans will speak out for all those who cannot.

Sonia Francis

Red Deer

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