'They push you out': Systemic bullying at Calvary Hospital revealed
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'They push you out': Systemic bullying at Calvary Hospital revealed

Numerous allegations of a systemic culture of bullying and harassment at one of Canberra's major hospitals can be revealed after a four-month investigation by The Sunday Canberra Times.

Multiple current and former staff members and contractors at Calvary Hospital have come forward to blow the whistle on a series of failings within the hospital that has led to a toxic culture for employees.

Calvary public hospital.

Calvary public hospital.

Photo: Jamila Toderas

Employees in nursing departments as well as security, administration and human resources all say bullying and harassment is rampant in their areas.

In a statement, the chief executive of Little Company of Mary Health Care - the company that runs Calvary - Martin Bowles said the hospital takes bullying allegations seriously and provides a safe environment for hospital staff.

He said the company was committed to supporting employees and providing a safe workplace environment, but would not comment on individual allegations.

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"Across all of Calvary's services, we ensure that all our staff have appropriate processes and opportunities to report workplace cultural issues and to contribute to the maintenance and improvement of workplace culture," Mr Bowles said.

"Whilst most issues are identified and resolved where they arise, we offer our staff a number of processes for them to report behaviours that either affect them or are known to impact on colleagues, including escalation through a member of their local executive team or to me.

"All matters are investigated, including those lodged anonymously.

"With respect to unsatisfactory conduct by individuals, all matters are properly investigated and escalated to other authorities as required. Alleged misbehaviour is assessed and investigated against civil and criminal laws and Calvary's own code of conduct."

Employees tell a different story.

"The staff members who complained have had the investigation turn on themselves," one employee said.

"We have had several members of staff 'removed' for having the audacity to complain. Bullying within our department is rife. Nursing and administration workers are under tremendous pressure, not only from the work we do, but the bullying we experience or witness from our managers on a daily basis."

Employees say hospital staff are targeted after they report bullying.

Employees say hospital staff are targeted after they report bullying.

Photo: Jamila Toderas

Sources say bullying comes from both fellow employees as well as those in managerial positions, with the culture affecting more than just hospital staff.

"What you see in places like Calvary, it puts patients at risk," one employee said.

'An intimidation exercise'

"I was astonished at the level of bullying at Calvary. It was quite extraordinary," one employee said.

"There is a culture of bullying that goes on there and it is systemic. One thing they stamped out very quickly was anyone who got out of line."

Male employees say allegations of improper conduct are falsified about them in a bid to smear them if they report bullying.

Male employees say allegations of improper conduct are falsified about them in a bid to smear them if they report bullying.

Photo: Jamila Toderas

Throughout the many cases of bullying and harassment heard by The Sunday Canberra Times at Calvary Hospital over many years, a familiar pattern emerges.

Staff who lodge complaints to HR or ​management about bullying incidents in hospital wards end up being the subject of a bullying complaint themselves. Multiple male employees have also said false claims of improper workplace conduct were made up about them in a bid to smear their reputation.

"I saw it more as an intimidation exercise for them to tell me to shut up and mind my own business," one staff member said, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"No one uses reporting methods for bullying incidents because anyone knows that if you use it, that will be the end of your career.

"People there are disgruntled with their jobs and take out their frustrations with other staff."

Hospital sources have said many 'cliques' of bullies exist on several wards in the hospitals, often targeting employees. Many have said those in managerial positions are often part of bullying groups.

Sources have also said that cliques of bullies would attempt to push out certain employees in a bid to replace them with friends.

Sources say the bullying comes from those in managerial positions.

Sources say the bullying comes from those in managerial positions.

Photo: Jamila Toderas

Levels of bullying range from verbal altercations to falsifying work of other employees.

"Calvary, like many institutions, has the same workplace pressures as other places, but I have not seen that level of bullying or workplace harassment from a managerial level before. I was quite astonished," one employee said.

"I witnessed wardsmen and nurses being harassed in the workplace fairly frequently, at least once a week there'd be an incident happen," another said.

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Calvary Hospital has launched an internal investigation into the suicide of emergency department nurse Andrew Earl, who was allegedly bullied over the course of a year.

'If they don't like you, they push you out'

Issues to do with bullying and harassment extend beyond the emergency department and wards at Calvary. Sources say bullying is also rife within other departments, including security, HR and administration.

Departments such as HR, administration and security have also said bullying is rife.

Departments such as HR, administration and security have also said bullying is rife.

Photo: Jamila Toderas

Employees in those departments said allegations of bullying were "swept under the carpet" by management.

One HR employee said staff within the department would write false reports on the files of other employees if they had made accusations of bullying.

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"A lot of the bullying was coming from the top end. There were no avenues for bullying reporting," the employee said.

"If they don't like you, they push you out. The last few years has been very toxic."

The employee said pregnant women were often the target of much of the bullying in the department.

"They love to bully pregnant people. I had my baby early because of all of the stress at work," the employee said.

"Another had a miscarriage while she was at Calvary because of all of the stress they had put her under."

'You would never want to go there'

While many of the issues within Calvary come from its public hospital, employees have detailed a litany of failings with its new private hospital that opened last year.

Staff say there are many failings at Calvary's private hospital.

Staff say there are many failings at Calvary's private hospital.

Photo: Jamila Toderas

Sources have told The Sunday Canberra Times the new hospital is understaffed, with nurses stretched to breaking point.

One employee, who declined to be named, said the hospital opened to the public without basic supplies.

"The place is diabolically bad, you would never want to go there."

Calvary have confirmed staff were exposed to dangerous anti-cancer drugs after a spill.

Calvary have confirmed staff were exposed to dangerous anti-cancer drugs after a spill.

Photo: Jamila Toderas

The employee also detailed an incident at Calvary private where staff were exposed to a powerful anti-cancer drug, after no spill kit was on hand to clear it up.

"You have spills in the operating theatre periodically but there are ways to clean it up, when you have no source for it, it becomes an issue," the employee said.

"These are drugs that can eat you alive, and several staff members were exposed. Everyone was in tears because they had been exposed to this dangerous drug."

Patients targeted

Calvary employees have also detailed that alleged bullies at the hospital were also investigated for several thefts of items belonging to patients.

One incident dating back to 2012 involved one of the staff interviewed over the alleged theft of jewellery belonging to a patient.

The same staff member was also interviewed by ACT Police later that year for the alleged theft of $300 from a patient.

As a result of the incident, the hospital was forced to implement a procedure where the belongings of surgical patients would be stored under security card access.

The patient was reimbursed with their money following the theft.

In a separate incident, staff members were interviewed by police over the theft of $800 from one of the drug safes on a ward.

The money was later found in a medication room after the room had been searched by staff.

Documents seen by The Sunday Canberra Times show employees also raised concerns with senior staff about the state of some of the surgeries inside Calvary Public Hospital.

The document stated some of the surgeries at the hospital contained expired drugs and medication, expired syringes as well as blood-collection tubes that were six years past their expiry date.

For many employees, the experiences of bullying and harassment within Calvary Hospital has left them damaged, although many more incidents are not being reported out of fear.

"We're only the tip of the iceberg," one said.

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

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Andrew Brown is a journalist at the Sunday Canberra Times. Andrew has worked at the Canberra Times since 2016.

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