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'They were trying to frighten us': Calvary staff allegedly threatened over Facebook posts on nurse's death

Calvary Hospital staff were threatened by managers to remove social media posts mentioning the death of an emergency department nurse who was allegedly bullied at work for over a year.

In the immediate aftermath of the suicide of nurse Andrew Earl in late June 2017, staff were told to take down tribute posts on Facebook that mentioned Andrew had been bullied .

Sources have said staff received late-night phone calls from Calvary managers threatening that they were "going to be dealt with badly" if the Facebook post wasn't taken down.

The Sunday Canberra Times last week revealed Calvary Hospital had launched an internal investigation into Andrew Earl's death, with those close to him saying he faced relentless psychological bullying in the workplace.

The ACT Health Services Commissioner is also investigating the circumstances following a formal complaint.

A Calvary staff member, who declined to be named, said she had shared a Facebook post written by someone close to Andrew that said he was a victim of bullying.

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The post did not explicitly name Calvary Hospital as the workplace.

"I read it and then I shared the post," the staff member said.

"I then got a phone call at 10.30 at night from a manager, and they said you need to take that down and that 'you're going to be dealt with badly if you don't bring that post down.

"I took down the post because I didn't want to lose my job."

The staff member said other employees also received similar threats from Calvary management.

"They swept [Andrew's death] under the carpet," the staff member said.

"They didn't want it getting out, and they were bullying us through managers to get the posts down and they were trying to frighten us."

Calvary Hospital chief executive Barbara Reid sent a memo to all staff on Monday regarding Andrew Earl, which has been obtained by The Sunday Canberra Times.

"We are very sad about the loss of Andrew, we continue to grieve his absence and the manner of his dying in June 2017. We deeply respect the wishes of Andrew's family not to comment on the situation directly," the memo reads.

"Calvary does take bullying, harassment and intimidation very seriously. We will not tolerate these forms of gross disrespect in any way.

"I wish to reinforce that staff who wish to speak out will be supported 100 per cent in being heard and the matter being investigated."

The memo also stated to employees that it was important to have a "common understanding of bullying and harassment", outlining ways for employees to report bullying in the workplace.

"Your feelings matter, whether or not the circumstances constitute bullying and harassment," the memo said.

In a statement, Ms Reid said hospital staff were "recently reminded of the policies that relate to the use of social media".

"We regularly remind staff that Calvary has policies around social media. This is always done in a respectful manner," she said.

"Staff are reminded that our policies exist to ensure that social media activities do not disrespect our patients, their families, our colleagues and other people and services."

The chief executive also listed multiple avenues for employees to report bullying in the workplace.

"No member of staff who reports their concerns around the behaviour of a colleague will suffer any disadvantage," Ms Reid said.

"Every reported matter provides an opportunity for us to respond and address concerns."

ACT Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris said she was saddened by the death of Andrew Earl.

"My condolences are with his family and friends," she said.

"I understand Worksafe is liaising with Calvary Public Hospital management to ensure that their workplace procedures and policies in this area are adequate and appropriately implemented."

Ms Fitzharris said ACT Health takes allegations of bullying seriously.

"Very soon we will finalise a new ACT Health Quality Strategy, which will present a further opportunity to clearly emphasise the importance of positive workplace culture," she said.

The ACT Nurses and Midwifery Federation secretary, Matthew Daniel, said many nurses in Canberra felt unable to report bullying due to it originating from management.

"It's a widespread problem if it's the immediate supervisor, because it can be difficult and raises issues that people believe they can't be supported," he said.

Australian Medical Association ACT president Peter Sommerville said a more inclusive approach was needed to make hospital employees safe in the workplace.

"It's hard to see that much has changed in dealing with bullying issues in the workplace," he said.

ACT opposition health spokeswoman Vicki Dunne said a toxic culture was created when bullying was not dealt with.

"It's no secret that bullying exists in the ACT health system," she said.

"It's an issue that has been raised by numerous ACT health employees, many of whom have said they were vilified after seeking help."

Do you know more? Email: andrewbrown@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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