Nurse fired after treating patient who later committed suicide

Nurse argued errors could have happened to anybody but treatment didn’t account for patient’s history and region’s suicide problem
By Jeffrey R.Smith
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 11/14/2012

The dismissal of a Northwest Territories health care worker for improperly treating a patient who later committed suicide has been upheld by an arbitrator.

Sandra McKiver became a community health nurse in Fort MacPherson, NWT, in August 2000. Fort MacPherson was a fairly remote community in the north of mostly aboriginal people. The health centre where McKiver worked served the town and surrounding smaller communities. McKiver’s responsibilities covered a many medical procedures and evaluations, as there was no permanent doctor in Fort MacPherson – one visited every five weeks and there was an on-call physician in Inuvik, a three-hour drive away in good weather. The community had a high incidence of suicides and alcohol-related illnesses.

McKiver had a record free of discipline and positive performance evaluations until Aug. 27, 2007. On that date, McKiver was the on-call nurse overnight. Around 3:30 a.m., someone called the health centre to report a previous patient who was intoxicated and had taken pills, and was also in possession of a pail of Sudafed. McKiver was aware of other suicide attempts by the individual in question and talked to the patient. The patient denied taking pills and McKiver felt she seemed aware and in control. Later, a police officer took the patient to a cell at the local RCMP detachment.