Code of conduct a gag

Every business, profession or public service — and all the workers within them — operate under codes of conduct.

Every business, profession or public service — and all the workers within them — operate under codes of conduct. Larger businesses, professional associations and even non-profits have written documents that spell out the ethical guidelines to which everyone in the organization must adhere.

When that organization is Alberta Health Services, the need for a written Code of Conduct is self-evident. Every professional group that works under AHS — doctors, nurses, lab techs, pharmacists — has their own codes of conduct, specific to each profession.

The codes are layers of security to help us trust that these workers will use their skills in the public interest. But what happens when the public interest clashes with some practices of AHS?

You can easily see why AHS would rather not have to deal with hospital workers in one place or another griping publicly about staffing levels or working conditions.

Every boss would like the power to stifle public complaints from employees.

That’s why their recently-released code warns all health-care workers to “exercise caution at all times and choose your words carefully when engaging in any form of public speaking.”

A breach of this rule includes “engaging in conduct that may adversely affect Alberta Health Services or its reputation.”

“Inappropriate acts,” says the code, can lead to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.

That’s casting way too wide a net over the right of people to express their opinions in a free society. People who have made caring for others their life’s work are being told to stay quiet if they believe certain practices of AHS may be harming patient care.

Moreover, the code includes methods by which workers can anonymously report on each other to AHS. Now, even an overheard slice from a conversation can anonymously be used to mark someone’s career.

And now, we discover, this code includes hospital volunteers, like Sonia Francis of Red Deer, who had worked for many years as a nurse both in the United Kingdom and in Canada. What has been her role recently? Knitting items for patients at the hospital.

She was sent a copy of the Code of Conduct and a cover letter that opened with “Dear Volunteers.”

She received it as an insult, as she should have, and she promptly resigned as a volunteer.

The senior citizen who had never written a letter to the editor in her life felt compelled to publicly express her outrage at what she took as an affront to her integrity.

Sonia Francis would probably never publicly dispute the AHS denial that there is a hiring freeze on nurses, even though hospitals are desperately short-staffed and cannot hire even relief staff. But she will not give up the right to do so — even if it means she can no longer knit baby caps for the neonatal care ward.

Hospital workers in Red Deer and other centres are also beginning to speak out against what is obviously a gag order meant to shut down the flow of information about declining care levels in our health system. They are front-line workers, putting a lot more on the line than a position as a volunteer knitter.

If you were asked to judge, which standard would you rather use: the codes of conduct of the professional associations, or the AHS code, which puts Alberta Health Services’ reputation above good patient care?

— Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his commitment to the Republican Party — and raise the possibility that someone else will be the GOP's next presidential nominee — in a closed-door speech to donors Saturday night, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Trump in 2024? He says only that ‘a Republican’ will win

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his… Continue reading

A cruise ship sits docked waiting for passengers to be evacuated in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Friday, April 9, 2021 due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)
Ash-covered St. Vincent braces for more volcanic eruptions

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Most Read