Chief nurse fired after trying to stop nursing cuts that impact patient safety
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.