19 May 2021

Clare Holland House under review over claims of toxic culture, staff shortages

| Ian Bushnell
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Clare Holland House entry

Clare Holland House: staff have raised several issues in an anonymous letter to management. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The running of Canberra’s palliative care centre is under review after an anonymous letter believed to have been written by staff alleged a toxic culture and critical staff shortages that were affecting patient care.

Calvary Public Hospital Bruce has confirmed that the letter was received on 3 March and that the hospital’s leadership team, which operates Clare Holland House, had instigated a review of the issues raised.

The letter alleged that two people at the hospice had “displayed” a toxic culture, saying one in particular was dismissive of concerns, swore in communal areas, and did not give workers guidance.

The other person had a poor attitude, underestimated staff continuously and was prone to angry outbursts, the letter said.

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The letter said there were few senior staff left to support the “wellbeing and structure” of the hospice, which lacked some medical equipment and basic provisions such as working curtains.

“The desired outcome of this letter is that the concerns will be addressed starting by a staff meeting that … [involves the] hierarchy of Calvary who have the ability to support these critical concerns,” the letter said.

“Ultimately, patients are suffering due to the mismanagement and lack of care and guidance being delivered … staff are burning out.”

The letter said staff meetings were non-existent at Clare Holland House, and there were no debrief sessions and “nil education support”.

A Calvary spokesperson said the hospital took the matters raised in the letter very seriously, and in consultation with Clare Holland House employees and management, took action to address a number of issues identified in the letter. These include employee recruitment to vacant permanent positions; equipment issues, including the replacement of a faulty steriliser; and the implementation of training and an update to the debriefing process.

“Calvary continues to work with staff to ensure matters are managed in a timely and appropriate way,” the spokesperson said.

“Our mission is, as always, to ensure that Clare Holland House patients receive the highest quality end-of-life care.”

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Calvary did not respond to questions about how staff shortages had occurred or whether management had been distracted by the $6 million extension nearing completion at the hospice.

The letter was also sent to Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith in March and again in May. Her spokesperson said the concerns in the letter were raised with the ACT Health Directorate.

“We understand that Calvary is engaging with staff, patients and carers to work through the concerns that were raised,” the spokesperson said.

“The Minister for Health has received an initial briefing and expects to receive a further update shortly on the actions Calvary has taken and continues to take to address the issues raised.”

The expansion of Clare Holland House began in 2020, funded by a $2 million donation from the Snow Foundation and a $4 million grant from the Federal Government.

The ACT Government contributes operating costs for the facility which will soon have eight new beds, enabling palliative care for an additional 250 patients each year, including the 30 per cent of regional patients who access its services.

There will be improved workspaces for staff and a new family lounge.

Hands Across Canberra, the Snow Foundation and Calvary Health Care are raising $50,000 for the facility.

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When my mother-in-law died in February this year Clare Holland House were not altogether helpful. Though they knew the state of her health they were not willing to admit her when she was obviously nearing death. Earlier, their responses when she was an out-patient were tardy.

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