SASKATOON – The Saskatoon Health Region has apologized to whistleblower Peter Bowden for sending the care aide’s employment information to the Ministry of Health. Earlier this spring, Bowden spoke out about conditions at his workplace, the Oliver Lodge nursing home in Saskatoon.
Later, a number of privacy breaches occurred, with Bowden’s personal information being sent to the premier’s office and to news reporters.
In a report released by the privacy commissioner, Oliver Lodge, the Saskatoon Health Region and the Ministry of Health were all found to be in violation of the province’s privacy legislation, CBC News said.
“I think what it is, is a wake up call for all of us,” said Dan Florizone (pictured), the president of the health region. “We need to be very cautious and careful in terms of what people are collecting, the reason for the collection and the protocol around what needs to be done.”
According to Florizone, the information was sent by a member of the health region’s senior administration to the Ministry of Health. The privacy commissioner’s report said the information was in turn sent to the health minister and the premier’s office.
Both the premier and the health minister’s offices were not found in violation of privacy laws because their offices do not fall under the province’s privacy legislation.
Florizone said the report will be helpful for the health region going forward, because it was already working on new privacy protocols after an employee was caught snooping in patient files. “This tells us we need to be much more guarded,” Florizone said. Florizone also reiterated a past statement that Bowden was not fired for speaking out about healthcare.
For his part, Bowden says his reputation has been tarnished after officials released details about his employment status that led to his dismissal, and that he has had a difficult time. “In one word, hell,” he said as he reflected on a report by Saskatchewan’s Privacy Commissioner, who looked into how Bowden’s employment details were provided to media outlets.
The commissioner, Ron Kruzeniski, whose report referred to Bowden but did not name him, found that officials at the Ministry of Health and the Saskatoon Health Region breached the man’s privacy and should apologize to him.
Kruzeniski’s report also noted breaches of privacy were made by officials in the office of Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall. However, the legislation on privacy does not apply to the premier’s office.
In the spring, Bowden expressed concerns about seniors’ care at Oliver Lodge, where he worked. He worked the night shift and said his responsibilities included looking after more than 30 residents for three hours every night. He said many residents who required turning or changing were left unattended for hours.
A month later, information that Bowden was under investigation by his employer was sent to several levels of government and some of that information was released by the premier’s office to members of the news media.
“He basically has sullied my name to the point where I won’t be able to work in the healthcare field again,” Bowden said, referring to the release of the information. Bowden’s firing is currently the subject of a grievance.
Premier Brad Wall said his office thought the release of information relating to Bowden was permissible because it could be viewed as being in the public interest, which the legislation allows. Wall said he accepts Kruzeniski’s recommendation that the law be changed.
Wall also emphasized that he wanted people to understand that Bowden’s employment status was not related to the man’s speaking out.
“The entire point of the release of any information was to ensure that people understood that his coming to the legislature that day, to state concerns about seniors’ care, had nothing to do with any work place discipline,” Wall said.
Bowden said he is pleased with Kruzeniski’s report and noted that the premier offered him an apology. He was also pleased that Wall has committed to amend the privacy legislation to include his office, as well as the offices of all government ministers.