The regulatory body for hospital nurses in NWT and Nunavut waited “until the 11th hour” to dismiss a complaint against a Yellowknife nursing manager before her appeal was scheduled, a court heard this week.
The Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut’s professional conduct committee should never have imposed interim national sanctions on Tracy Matesic in the first place, said lawyer Austin Marshall.
Yet as the association did impose those sanctions, he continued, she needed to prepare for an appeal to repair her damaged career.
“This isn’t a case of changed circumstances, this is a case of an interim order that never should have been made at all,” said Marshall in NWT Supreme Court on Friday, making his application to recover costs from the association.
“This committee is struggling with its role, struggling with what it is supposed to be doing.”
Marshall criticized the conduct of the committee, alleging confidentiality provisions were breached, new allegations of a “toxic workplace” introduced mid-stream, and the outcome pre-judged. He said witnesses were told: “There will be an outcome and there will be change.”
“It’s a morale-breaker to be making those kinds of comments,” he said. “It’s a promise of an outcome to the nurses and it ties the hands [of the committee] from that point forward.
“Minds were being made up very early on in the game that something was going to be done … that’s why we are talking solicitor-client costs – or if you don’t think you can go that far, some very substantial, enhanced costs.
“This type of thing should not be going on.”
Marshall is seeking $160,000, including for Thursday’s appearance.
That sum – 442 hours of billable time at $300 hour – was described by the association’s lawyer, Greg Sim, as “extraordinary” and an “unreasonable amount of time.”
The association has offered $6,000.
Justice Andrew Mahar said: “Thinking about this through a criminal law lens … what Mr Marshall is essentially alleging is malicious prosecution, for lack of a better term.”
In a story first reported in 2019 by the CBC, Matesic was restricted from any leadership, managerial, or supervisory nursing roles at Stanton Territorial Hospital – and across Canada – after the committee ruled she failed to adequately staff the obstetrics unit during two shifts in the summer of 2018.
Matesic was manager of approximately 90 nurses at Stanton Territorial Hospital.
The February 2019 decision stated the lack of staffing caused “an unsafe work environment … and a threat to public safety.”
The obstetrics unit was understaffed for a five-hour day shift on June 28, 2018 and a nearly 12-hour night shift starting on July 6, 2018, stated court documents.
Erin Vallillee, who was working the night shift on July 6, filed the complaint against Matesic, who had been a registered nurse at Stanton since 2003 and a manager since 2013.
Vallillee alleged Matesic didn’t do enough to make sure there were nurses covering absenteeisms and that the July 6, 2018 night shift was “truly frightening.”
While it was busy, Dr Theresa Hansen – the labour and delivery doctor on call that shift – said she was aware of the nurse shortage. However, Hansen said, everyone handled the situation. There were no complications with the deliveries and backup plans were in place, as nursing shortages were a frequent occurrence.
Association lawyer Sim said the conduct committee had a lot of information to analyze.
“Maybe they could have made their decision earlier … but there was a lot of information to go through and it took a long time to make a decision,” he said.
“Could they have done it faster? Sure. But does the fact that they took several months to do it and then realized later that they made some mistakes… does that amount to scandalous or outrageous conduct? I’m going to suggest that it doesn’t, people do make mistakes.”
Justice Mahar reserved his decision, saying it was an unusual case that would require some time to rule on.
His decision could stand as a precedent affecting future actions by regulators or professional bodies.
“I really don’t know what direction I’ll be going,” he said.