Whistleblower says she was ostracized after raising concerns about ‘widespread failures’

The article below describes how a Vancouver Island Health Authority employee Veronica McCaffrey, who has practised law for 36 years, discovered widespread failures in the medical system. Under Law Society of BC Professional Code of Conduct Guidelines, specifically section 3.2-8, she was professionally obliged to bring this misconduct to the attention of executive leadership. She was then ignored, and thereafter strategically and maliciously undermined by her peers, including Vancouver Island Health Authority CEO Kathy MacNeil.

This story is yet another indication as to why our government institutions are incapable of self regulation. We need to ensure we have a robust tort system with access to justice for all in our province, in order to hold our institutions accountable, incentivize policy change, and deter negligent and wrongful actions.

Unlike all other provinces in Canada, under BC’s current wrongful death legislation, only family breadwinners currently have worth under our antiquated 174 year old law. When it’s ‘free’ to kill most people in BC under the law, we enable a system of survivorship bias, whereby actions contributing and causing wrongful death are never addressed through legal deterrence mechanisms.

Please petition your MLA to make your voice heard in supporting the modernization of our wrongful death laws in BC»

The article begins below…

Lawyer sues Island Health over departure, says she was unfairly terminated

Whistleblower says she was ostracized after raising concerns about ‘widespread failures’

Cindy E. Harnett / Times Colonist

FEBRUARY 24, 2019 06:00 AM

The Scales of Justice statue at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. Photograph By Jason Payne, PNG

A lawyer is suing Vancouver Island Health Authority, claiming she was ostracized, labelled as mentally ill and unfairly terminated as director of risk management and senior legal counsel for the organization after she raised concerns about “widespread failures.”

Veronica McCaffrey filed a notice of claim on Feb. 1 in B.C. Supreme Court against the health authority, and president and CEO Kathy MacNeil.

None of the allegations has been tested or proven in court, and Island Health has not yet filed a response to the civil claim.

In a statement, Island Health said that while it has a legal and ethical duty not to publicly comment on matters regarding employees, or issues before the court, “Ms. McCaffrey’s view of the events is not consistent with that of Island Health and will be answered in the response which will be filed with the court.”

McCaffrey, who has practised law for 36 years, says she was lured from a secure job in Alberta Health Services to work as director of risk management, senior legal counsel and whistleblower lead with the promise of a long-term commitment and increases in wage and responsibilities.

She was employed from June 2016 to Nov. 7, 2017, by VIHA, which has about 21,000 staff and serves more than 790,000 Island residents.

McCaffrey says her comprehensive review and evaluation of the organization during her first eight months of employment “pointed to a shocking state of affairs, widespread failures in law and compliance, an absence [of] basic standards,” as well as “conduct and culture from the top that paralyzed whistleblower reporting,” putting patients and staff at risk.

McCaffrey says she had serious concerns about legal and compliance issues, as well as “concerns of harassment and abusive behaviour by senior leadership and other management staff.” She points to an “employee culture of fear.”

McCaffrey claims in court documents that she recommended “urgent necessary actions and solutions.” When no meaningful steps were taken to address significant problems, she says, she attempted to bring her report to the attention of higher levels of authority.

McCaffrey claims that when she did this, her immediate supervisor retaliated by removing her from work, on the false premise that she was “mentally ill” and not fit to work.

“Island Health avoided completing the investigation by terminating the plaintiff before her complaints were investigated,” McCaffrey’s claim says.

“When the plaintiff reported the matters to the Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, in accordance with the Whistle Blower Policy, the minister failed to respond,” it says.

When she was allowed to return to work, McCaffrey says, she was ostracized until she was “actively removed from the workplace in an embarrassing and humiliating manner on a second occasion, and denied access to her files.”

Days later, on Aug. 4, 2017, McCaffrey says, she found Victoria police at her door inquiring about her health. She says she had to tell them she was fine and that “Island Health was acting improperly by using the police to intimidate her and retaliate for an employment-related complaint she had filed.”

Referring to a freedom of information request, McCaffrey claims it was MacNeil who contacted police, alleging McCaffrey was suicidal.

“The statements were untrue, were known by Kathy MacNeil to be untrue and were made maliciously, with the intent of causing harm to the plaintiff,” McCaffrey’s claim says.

In November 2017, the claim says, Island Health terminated her, allegedly for “concerns regarding the performance of [her] duties” prior to her raising complaints about legal and compliance issues.

McCaffrey says no concerns were ever brought to her attention during that time. Rather, she says she was commended on her work many times.

In her civil claim, she says Island Health caused her stress, embarrassment and significant damage to her reputation in physically removing her from her position, maintaining she was medically unfit to work and telling her she would be disciplined without meaningful investigation.

The claim says Island Health’s conduct was “harsh, vindictive, reprehensible and malicious, departing to a marked degree from ordinary standards of decent behaviour and is worthy of rebuke from this Honourable Court.”

McCaffrey is seeking damages for breach of contract, bad faith, misrepresentation and defamation, and punitive, aggravated and special damages.

Please petition your MLA to make your voice heard in supporting the modernization of our wrongful death laws in BC»


About the BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society

‘In Their Name’ is the campaign of ‘The BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society’ – a BC registered non-profit organization comprised of volunteer families who have lost a loved one to wrongful death in BC and were denied access to justice. In response to the biggest human rights issue facing the province today, our goal is to modernize British Columbia’s antiquated wrongful death legislation, which predates confederation (1846). Under current legislation, the value of a human life is measured only by the deceased’s future lost income, so long as they had dependents.

As a result of the province’s antiquated law, access to justice has been denied to the families of the wrongfully killed who do not meet this discriminatory criteria. This has affected especially vulnerable groups, namely children, seniors, the disabled, and anyone without dependents when they are killed by the negligent or intentional acts of another.

BC is presently the last of all the provinces, yet to have undertaken this critical legislative modernization to allow for dignity, value, and protections for all its citizens under the law.

When it’s ‘free’ to kill in BC, wrongdoers are not held accountable. This lack of general deterrence holds the province back in terms of incentivizing innovation of safety measures and protocols to prevent wrongful deaths in the first place.

Here’s How You Can Get Involved…

The Premier of British Columbia, David Eby, is responsible for the modernization of BC’s wrongful death laws. Our Society provided David Eby with the drafted ‘Wrongful Death Accountability Act’ when he was acting as the Attorney General for British Columbia for 6 years between 2017-2022. The new Attorney General, Niki Sharma, also shares responsibility as she is the Minister responsible for the ‘Family Compensation Act’ – the current guiding piece of legislation that the civil courts must follow in cases of wrongful death. Minister Sharma receives feedback from the regional ‘Members of the Legislative Assembly’ (MLAs) and follows orders from the Premier, David Eby, who is ultimately responsible for modernization.

Reform is presently at a standstill, as the BC NDP government does not presently view access to justice for the surviving family members of the wrongfully killed as a priority in this province. This is despite the fact that the families behind our Society have been fighting for modernization for over two decades. And despite the fact that all other provinces, including the Yukon, have already modernized in most cases long ago.

The only way to move this forward is by creating massive public awareness and outcry for legislative modernization. Only under the scrutiny of the public and the media will our politicians be forced to take this necessary, and long overdue action.

How many more people will need to die from the same preventable wrongful actions before our politicians will do their job?

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