Shirley Govender – Harassing & Ridiculing Dementia Patients
Shirley Govender is a nurse who lost her job because she harassed aged care residents.
The Fair Work Commission was investigating an unfair termination case. They made the ruling that an aged care provider can fire a nurse who disrespected a patient. Also, they emphasized the importance of providing dignified care to the residents.
Moreover, the investigation found graphic details about a near-death experience of another resident. Shirley Govender had started working at Bupa Aged Care Australia’s (Bupa) Mosman aged care home in 2010 as a Registered Nurse.
However, Bupa started receiving multiple complaints about how Shirley behaved with the patients. So, they started looking into her conduct.
After concluding their investigation, Bupa fired Shirley Govender for serious misconduct.
Shirley’s colleague, Bishal Ranjit, had recorded her behavior secretly on multiple occasions. Then, he provided the same to Bupa to support his allegations that she was harassing the residents.
After seeing the footage, Bupa suspended Shirley Govender on full pay while conducting the investigation.
They wrote to Shirley and presented her with the allegations present against her. Then, they asked her to respond to them in an interview on 21 November 2016.
However, Bupa didn’t show her the video footage Bupa had received from Bishal Ranjit.
“Video Evidence Was Sufficient for The Termination of Shirley Govender” – Bupa Management
The management at Bupa Aged Care Australia determined that the video footage was enough to dismiss Shirley.
They informed Shirley Govender of this decision 3 days later on 24 November 2016.
Then, she lodged an unfair dismissal application with the Commission.
However, the video recordings proved to be too powerful. They were critical evidence in Bupa’s investigation as well as the unfair dismissal case.
While Shirley Govender argued that the video recordings were a breach of her privacy and the Surveillance Devices Act 2007 (NSW), she couldn’t oppose their introduction into evidence before the Commission.
What Videos Showed:
The first video showed Shirley lying on a resident’s bed wearing dark sunglasses. Bupa’s investigation revealed that Shirley Govender was sleeping on shift.
However, she insisted that she was merely resting her eyes due to an eye surgery. She claimed she had made her manager aware that she will need to do the same.
The second video showed a conversation between Ms Govender, another staff member, and a resident. In the conversation, Ms Govender told the resident that they could not “even do anything” and they could not “even walk”. Bupa found that Ms Govender was disrespectful and abrupt in the manner and tone in which she spoke to the resident.
Ms Govender argued that she was merely being firm with the resident. Also, she said that sometimes this is required with residents with dementia.
The second video also showed Ms Govender joking with colleagues about an overtime shift of another employee, in which two residents had died. Bupa alleged that Ms Govender was laughing at the death of the residents. But Ms Govender stated that she was merely laughing at the fact that her colleague worked overtime.
Finally, the second video recorded a further conversation where Ms Govender discussed a critical incident where a resident was “frothing at the mouth” and had turned blue.
Alarming Revelations on Shirley Govender:
This conversation had occurred in a public area where it could be overheard by residents. Bupa found that Ms Govender breached the confidentiality of the resident, and that it was inappropriate for Ms Govender to be speaking about the incident in front of other residents due to the potential that it would make them fearful.
The third video showed Ms Govender and other employees sitting in the tea room drinking beverages while a number of residents’ alert buzzers were sounding. Bupa found that Ms Govender was ignoring those buzzers and neglecting her duties, despite Ms Govender arguing that she was on her break at the time of the video recording.
“Deeply Concerning Conduct” – What the Commission Said
Note that Staff had to transcribe the video evidence for the proceedings. Furthermore, the Commission viewed the material over 20 times. While the Commission did not agree with all of the findings that Bupa had reached during its investigation, the Commission did conclude that some of the alleged behavior had occurred, and that this justified Ms Govender’s dismissal.
Specifically, the Commission found that Ms Govender’s conduct, where she told the resident that “you cannot even do anything – you can’t even walk”, was degrading, disrespectful, and inappropriate, even taking into account the evidence submitted by Ms Govender that it can be necessary to be firm with dementia patients.
Additional Concerns of the Commission:
The Commission was also “deeply concerned” by Ms Govender’s comments regarding a resident frothing at the mouth and requiring oxygen, and found that identifying the patient to other residents was inappropriate and “could have caused fear and trepidation for any resident who may have heard the conversation”.
However, the Commission was not satisfied that Ms Govender had been laughing at the deaths of residents during her colleague’s overtime shift.
They didn’t like that she had ignored patients’ buzzers, or that she was sleeping on the job.
The Commission accepted Ms Govender’s explanations of what had occurred in these incidents.
Also, the Commission found that the process followed by Bupa had not been entirely fair, in that Bupa had failed to present the video evidence to Ms Govender.
It stated that Bupa should have shown Ms Govender the footage in order to allow her an opportunity to properly respond to the allegations before her and noted that a “disciplinary process should not be conducted as some sort of memory test”.
Nonetheless, in this case the Commission decided that the conduct was sufficiently serious in nature that dismissal was justified, despite the procedural deficiencies in Bupa’s investigation and termination process.
The Commission concluded by noting that many people must entrust the care of their elderly loved ones to aged care facilities, and that society expects that aged care residents will be treated with care and compassion.
What Punishment Did Shirley Govender Receive?
The Commission found that the behavior of Ms Grovender was not befitting of a professional of her seniority, experience, and capacity.
This case demonstrates that aged care providers, and those in the health industry, are entitled to expect their staff to respect patients. Also, it shows that there is capacity for employers to take serious action in response to inappropriate behavior.
However, the case also shows the importance of following a well-planned and fair procedure when conducting a disciplinary process which could lead to termination of employment.
The existence of a valid reason for the termination is only one of the factors which the Commission must weigh up in determining whether a dismissal was unfair. Other considerations include whether the employee had an opportunity to respond and the procedures followed in effecting the dismissal.
In this case, the Commission expressed concern at the lack of procedural fairness the aged care home granted to Ms Grovender in not showing her the video recordings.
This could have quite easily led to an unfavorable outcome for Bupa.
All the details of the case indicate that Shirley Govender is not a competent nursing professional. She was caught harassing the residents at Bupa Aged Care and lost her job as a result.
- Ridiculed dementia patients
- Harassed patients