Jan 16, 2023

‘Vulgar’ nurse’s misconduct denounced by tribunal

16_01_23 spit

An Australian tribunal has said a historic act of patient misconduct by a nurse at a Victorian aged care home outlined why the public had little faith in our aged care sector. 

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal found a nurse of three decades, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was on shift as a manager in 2019 when she spat on a resident with dementia and directed “vulgar” language towards junior staff. 

The nurse’s actions were found to be professional misconduct against the new Code of Conduct for Aged Care and were said to be the type of actions that undermined the public’s confidence in the nursing profession.

The new Code officially came into effect in December, providing aged care workers and providers with a legislated set of guidelines to adhere to while delivering services to older people.

“Persons in the resident’s position cannot complain or defend themselves from such conduct,” the Tribunal said in their decision.

“The treatment of persons in aged care and elder abuse is a sensitive issue and vulnerable people need to be protected.

“The aged care facility is their home where they should feel safe and protected.”

Prior to her shift, the nurse was warned the resident had a tendency to spit and refuse her food. While the nurse was doing medication rounds, the resident spat at her twice and the nurse claimed some spittle landed in her mouth.

The Tribunal found that the nurse spat back at the resident’s face and said words to the effect of, “maybe this is how we should deal with them”.

The nurse then went into a room where there was two other residents and another Enrolled Nurse (EN), who she was responsible for supervising, who heard her using inappropriate language which made the EN uncomfortable.

The nurse’s “vulgar” comments concerned Tribunal members who said it demonstrated an unacceptable attitude towards aged care residents, especially those who cannot speak for themselves such as those with serious dementia.

The Tribunal determined that the nurse’s conduct was deliberate, retaliatory, vindictive and at odds with aspects of the Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics.

“[She] had time to consider how to prepare for the risk and how to respond to it. Rather than retreat, [she] retaliated,” said the Tribunal.

“[Her] conduct and words, regarding a vulnerable resident with dementia, was undermining, disrespectful and did not promote the dignity and human rights of the resident. It was absent compassion.”

The tribunal cancelled the nurse’s registration for two years, prohibiting her from providing health services to anyone at that time.

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  1. Will the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission be advised of the name of this staff member so that this person can be banned from ever again working in the care sector.

    This is a test for the new rules. Even though the conduct occurred before the banning legislation, all conduct needs to be considered, regardless of when it occurred.

    To take an extreme example. If a worker, or governing person, in Aged Care was found to have contributed to a clients death, before the passing of the Act to allow banning a care worker, would that information be considered by the Commission to ban that worker or governing person from providing Aged Care ?

    I believe all that information should be used and such a person should be banned.

    This is a real issue. The Aged Care Royal Commission heard sworn evidence of many
    Incidents that involved unacceptable conduct by workers or governing persons.

    Will the Commission follow this evidence to make determinations about banning orders ?

    I suspect not. The “old guard” at the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission have been part of the problem for so long it is hard to imagine them becoming a proactive part of the solution.

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