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Health Ministry Trying to Rebuild Employee Trust After Wrongful Firings

Reconciliation process and ‘respectful, fair and vibrant work community’ promised by top manager.

By Andrew MacLeod 29 May 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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Roderick MacIsaac killed himself after wrongful firing by BC Health Ministry.

Health ministry managers have been trying to rebuild trust with employees following the April release of ombudsperson Jay Chalke’s report into the wrongful firings of seven workers in 2012.

“While under difficult circumstances, I have really appreciated the opportunity to meet with many of you and am grateful for your sharing of personal stories and the open and constructive ideas that have been presented to me,” Deputy Minister Stephen Brown wrote in a May 23 email to all Health Ministry employees.

Brown had met with departments throughout the ministry and hosted a drop-in session open to everyone, the email said.

“Thanks to those of you who have also submitted feedback on a proposed reconciliation process,” he wrote. “All of your feedback will be organized and incorporated to help guide us as we move forward.”

Holding a reconciliation process — to start by Sept. 30 and be completed within 18 months — was one of 41 recommendations Chalke made in his 487-page report Misfire: The 2012 Ministry of Health Employment Terminations and Related Matters.

The report looked at what went wrong in the firing of seven people from the ministry over what officials said at the time were breaches in data management, contracting and possible conflicts of interest serious enough that the government had asked the RCMP to investigate.

Government officials, including Premier Christy Clark, have since admitted there were serious problems with the process that led to the firings. There was never an RCMP investigation because the government never supplied enough evidence to warrant one.

Some employees have returned to work, five lawsuits were settled out of court and one of those fired, Roderick MacIsaac, committed suicide.

Morale suffered in the ministry in the years following the firings, The Tyee has reported, with Work Environment Surveys showing large drops in the scores workers gave to executive-level management and satisfaction with the ministry.

Chalke’s report said the reconciliation process should be designed with input from the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union and the BC Excluded Employees’ Association “with the goal of re-establishing positive, respectful professional relationships with staff and contractors who will productively support the mandate of the ministry moving forward.”

Brown said in his email that he plans to have a first draft within weeks of a document that through a consultation process will be developed into a “roadmap for our action.”

“I genuinely hope and believe that we can build from the report and use this as an opportunity to work together to co-create a respectful, fair and vibrant work community that we can all be excited to be a part of,” he wrote.

Brown also emailed employees on April 6, the day Chalke’s report came out. “This has been, without question, a challenging period — not only for individuals but also for us as a ministry and organizational team.”

The ministry offered support to employees, including counselling from the human resources firm Morneau Shepell. Representatives were available in the ministry for two days, and then by phone.

“I know many of you, like myself, have lived and worked with this uncertainty for some time and through it all have remained dedicated to the important work we do as public servants,” Brown wrote in April. “I want to share my sincere appreciation for all your patience, commitment, hard work and dedication through this period.”

Morneau Shepell returned to the ministry in May following the death of Ronald Merner, 56, a data warehouse specialist, according to a May 2 email Brown wrote with the subject “sad news.”

“Many of you and your staff will have worked with Ron over the years,” Brown wrote. “You will know that Ron was a well-respected colleague to all of us in the ministry and a friend to those who worked closely with him.”

Merner was last seen at his home on April 20. Ten days later his body was recovered from McNeill Bay in the Victoria community of Oak Bay.

“Ron died from depression,” said his obituary in the Times Colonist. “He was no longer just in unbearable pain but was imprisoned in a powerful darkness. Ron will forever be in our hearts.”

BCGEU President Stephanie Smith said she welcomes any improvements to working conditions for the union’s members. “This is a ministry that’s been reeling over so many things over the past few years,” she said. “It just seems to have been one thing after another.”

Smith mentioned both the 2012 firings and the recent death of Merner as examples of events that had an impact on workers in the ministry. Increasing the awareness of stress and mental health is a priority for the union, she said.  [Tyee]

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