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

Ian Bushnell 19 May 2021 26
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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26 Responses to Clare Holland House under review over claims of toxic culture, staff shortages
Alan Wilson Alan Wilson 1:24 pm 20 May 21

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.

Liwei Meakin Liwei Meakin 10:48 am 20 May 21

I have so much respect to the staffs, they took a great care for my dad. They do need more resources and equipments.

Sue Sutton Sue Sutton 10:12 pm 19 May 21

Our experience of Clare Holland House was very positive with very caring and professional staff.

Aaron Still Aaron Still 9:41 pm 19 May 21

My families experience with the staff was nothing but positive (and the staff beautiful and caring people), but I understand it only takes one person to change the whole culture of a workplace. Fingers crossed they deal with the issues quickly so that the support and care CHH provides isn’t impacted

Jess Tankard Jess Tankard 8:49 pm 19 May 21

Very sorry to hear this.

My mum passed away in September 2017 to lung cancer. I found the staff extremely caring and compassionate towards my my mum in her final days.

    Kat Lindbeck Kat Lindbeck 9:01 pm 19 May 21

    That’s great to hear had a good experience but unfortunately this kind of behaviour occurs a majority of the time away from the eyes of patients and their families. It only takes one bad egg to ruin a workplace culture.

    Jess Tankard Jess Tankard 9:12 pm 19 May 21

    Kat Lindbeck Completely agree.

    What happens behind the scenes can also affect the way staff take care of patients in hospice.

    Kat Lindbeck Kat Lindbeck 9:17 pm 19 May 21

    Jess totally agree. The culture of any work place will have an effect on the patients and also the care they are given (as a flow-on effect). As a health professional I see it as privilege to care for those who are unwell, vulnerable (and this includes their families and care givers).

Mallie Taylor Mallie Taylor 8:15 pm 19 May 21

I'm so sad to hear this. My late husband was in their care in 2017, and we had nothing but positive experiences from start to finish. The staff even cared so much to make sure Matt was awarded his nursing diploma, in a beautiful ceremony the staff put on, because his illness forced him to drop out of the degree program 11 shifts and 2 essays before graduation. Bec and Olivia were our main carers, and I could never thank them enough for the care and love they showed us through our darkest times. I hope things get better for the staff and patients, so they can feel as loved and supported as we felt. ❤

    Kat Lindbeck Kat Lindbeck 9:21 pm 19 May 21

    Mallie I’m glad to hear your great experience. I’m sure it’s not everyone and that only one or two. But unfortunately a place and it’s staff then get painted with the same brush and don’t deserve it.

    Mallie Taylor Mallie Taylor 9:23 pm 19 May 21

    Kat Lindbeck agreed. My husband was a home palliative patient, but every single person we me met were so lovely. I hate that there's always one bad egg!!

    Miriam Attard Miriam Attard 9:27 pm 19 May 21

    Mallie Taylor I remember your hubby well- I am so pleased his hard work and studies were celebrated!!

    Mallie Taylor Mallie Taylor 9:54 pm 19 May 21

    Miriam Attard it was a tear filled and beautiful day to see his hard work recognised!!!

Tascha Loadsman Tascha Loadsman 7:46 pm 19 May 21

I found all the frontline staff wonderful, although perhaps understaffed.

Sorry to hear this.

    Kat Lindbeck Kat Lindbeck 9:19 pm 19 May 21

    Tascha I am so glad to hear this. I’m sure that this is not everyone, but one bad egg and ruin a workplace culture it reputation and effect care people received. I had only heard good things about CHH.

Kirsty Smith Kirsty Smith 7:14 pm 19 May 21

The care provided to our mum and daughter was outstanding, if this is based on one complaint, maybe that is the problem? Not the staff?

    Sam McCracken Sam McCracken 8:19 pm 19 May 21

    Kirsty Smith patients often never know of what’s happening behind the scenes for staff because that’s what makes a good nurse or doctor, carrying on, putting the patients and their families first and shielding them from the burnout. It’s a testament to the dedication of the staff that you’ve had a positive experience and didn’t know about the issues those staff faced.

    Sam McCracken Sam McCracken 8:55 pm 19 May 21

    Kat Lindbeck I also work in healthcare and I’ve seen bullying, although never to the extent you’ve experienced. It’s beyond belief that fundamentally we are about caring for others but some health care providers can’t practice that with their own colleagues. What terrible and completely inexcusable behaviour you’ve experienced. I hope you’re able to heal 💕

    Kirsty Smith Kirsty Smith 10:39 pm 19 May 21

    Sam McCracken I understand this, just saying that it's one anonymous email, might be untrue 🤷‍♀️

    Kat Lindbeck Kat Lindbeck 10:58 pm 19 May 21

    Kirsty most people don’t joke about things like this, especially if they are the targeted person being bullied. If it is true then this is completely unprofessional behaviour.

    Sam McCracken Sam McCracken 9:57 am 20 May 21

    Kirsty Smith or maybe it’s staff who’ve had enough and written a letter together but want to remain anon so they don’t lose their jobs.

Christine Lawrey Christine Lawrey 6:59 pm 19 May 21

So sorry to hear this news. We have been so happy with the care CHH is providing our Mum.

    Kat Lindbeck Kat Lindbeck 8:53 pm 19 May 21

    Christine that is great to hear but unfortunately this kind of behaviour occurs a majority of the time away from the eyes of patients and their families.

    Kat Lindbeck Kat Lindbeck 9:14 pm 19 May 21

    Christine Yes unfortunately it is most of the time. I know and have worked with so many wonderful healthcare professionals, however encountered many that are not.

Claire Cat Claire Cat 6:08 pm 19 May 21

It takes a super powered human to work in palliative care. To think they aren't being cared for themselves is quite upsetting. I hope that the standards of care to these beautiful support people are lifted ASAP.

    Kat Lindbeck Kat Lindbeck 9:03 pm 19 May 21

    Claire totally agree it takes a special person to work in any area of health care these days. Times have changed and it is a more challenging environment.

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