West Australian of the Year 2016 Anne Carey says she felt “less stressed” working with ebola patients overseas than as a nurse in the WA Health Department dealing with workplace bullying. In short, she says, treating ebola was better than the psychological trauma of workplace bullying. That is not small statement by any means.
She says workplace bullying grievance processes still fall, far short in health organisations around the nation.
Bullying is a destructive pattern of behaviours and it must be addressed in all workplaces. Turning a blind eye is not acceptable.
Ms Carey’s harrowing experience of bullying at Esperance Hospital and the ensuing demoralising grievance process has led her to champion ‘outing’ workplace bullying and behaviours that must be eradicated in the workplace.
Ms Carey has been colloquially referred to as a “medical warrior” for her selfless work in Sierra Leone during the Ebola virus outbreak which claimed more than 11,000 lives in West Africa since 2014.
“What I went through here and then getting over to Sierra Leone and helping with ebola I felt much safer and less stressed working with ebola than the WA Health Department,” she said from her Esperance home.
“It was so much easier to deal with (ebola) than what I’d just been through, which says a lot.”
Ms Carey said she was appalled by the “stifling culture of bullying and intimidation in the WA health sector” created by senior administration staff at the hospital where she started as a midwife in 2008 and later becoming a clinical nurse manager.
Ms Carey said she and other nursing staff were targeted by upper management after a coronial inquest in late 2013 into the 2011 death of an elderly patient, for which the coroner found no fault with any hospital staff.
It is telling to the insidious nature of workplace bullying that Ms Carey had no formal role in treating the patient.
After months of trying to deal with bullying and the subsequent grievance process, Ms Carey took leave without pay in October 2014 and volunteered with the Red Cross in Sierra Leone during the ebola outbreak.
She resigned in February last year while still in Sierra Leone, “giving up” on ever getting an apology and assurances that her career with WA Health wouldn’t be marred by her grievance. An external report into her grievance, which Ms Carey later obtained through Freedom of Information, showed that “Ms Carey’s grievance was found to have substance”.
It took me getting information through the Freedom of Information Act to personally get some closure. That is not acceptable.
She said she had been belittled, shut-out of decision making, her authority undermined, and physically intimidated.
“My case is over and done and that’s fine,” she said.
“I think it’s time I and others step up and not be kept down by fear or bullies. My motto is ‘Courage to be kind’.”
Anne Carey will speak on Bullying in the Health System – An Epidemic. She will be followed by a panel of workplace experts discussing bullying in the health system and how cyber harassment and cyber trolling is making the situation worse.