Jail nurse ac­cused of mis­con­duct

Turfed mem­ber of health staff calls ocdc ‘toxic’ as her hear­ing looms


It’s ei­ther the story of a night­mare nurse mak­ing dan­ger­ous mis­takes at the Innes Road jail — or it’s the story of a “toxic” work­place that was un­der­staffed and pushed some­one to the break­ing point. It just de­pends whom you ask. Next month, a for­mer nurse at the Ot­tawa-Car­leton De­ten­tion Cen­tre will face a dis­ci­plinary hear­ing over al­le­ga­tions she over­dosed pa­tients with methadone, with­held med­i­ca­tion from oth­ers, and com­plained to her man­ager “what the f--- do you think I am? A pill counter?”

Karen Freyer’s cer­tifi­cate to prac­tise nurs­ing was sus­pended in Au­gust. The 55-year-old will ap­pear be­fore the Col­lege of Nurses of On­tario on al­le­ga­tions of pro­fes­sional mis­con­duct.

But Freyer, who now lives in Al­berta, says she was “tar­geted” by man­age­ment and that work­ing con­di­tions for nurses in the Ot­tawa jail were “toxic.”

“I was ad­vised by many man­agers and col­leagues that I worked with that there was a tar­get on my back be­cause I didn’t lay down and take it,” she told this news­pa­per. “I had op­po­si­tion to many, many things, and when I thought things were wrong, I re­ported it.”

Freyer worked 14 years at the Innes Road jail. She said that, in Jan­uary 2016, she was forced to re­sign. The Min­istry of Com­mu­nity Safety and Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices, while re­fus­ing to dis­cuss specifics of the case, said a nurse at OCDC was ter­mi­nated.

“At the be­gin­ning, I re­ally liked it,” she said. “There was a lot of au­ton­omy. You felt you were do­ing a good thing.”

But she grew frus­trated with man­age­ment and even­tu­ally chose to work the night shift “be­cause I wasn’t do­ing very well on days,” she said.

“It just wasn’t pos­si­ble. You couldn’t get ahead of any­thing and there was no help. You were drown­ing.”

Freyer was “shocked” by the col­lege’s al­le­ga­tions, some of which she de­nies and some of which don’t take into ac­count the con­text of work­ing in a jail, she con­tends.

“They seemed to take any­thing and run with it,” she said. “It was an in­sane place to work. Man­age­ment were bul­lies. It was a re­ally, re­ally toxic place to work.”

The al­le­ga­tions, which were re­ferred to the col­lege’s dis­ci­pline com­mit­tee last Septem­ber, al­lege Freyer “abused a client ver­bally, phys­i­cally and/or emo­tion­ally” and en­gaged in “dis­grace­ful, dis­hon­ourable or un­pro­fes­sional con­duct.”

In its no­tice of hear­ing, posted on­line, the col­lege cites seven in­ci­dents be­tween June 2014 and Jan­uary 2016.

In the first, on or about June 9, 2014, Freyer is al­leged to have failed to doc­u­ment the care she pro­vided to a fe­male in­mate and then to have left the woman’s health records in the cell she shared with an­other in­mate;

The next in­ci­dent oc­curred on or about July 22, 2014, when Freyer al­legedly re­fused to com­plete her du­ties and told her man­ager she wasn’t go­ing to do a nar­cotic count. “You ex­pect me to count pills each time? Ex­cuse me I’m not f---ing do­ing that. What the f--- do you think I am? A pill counter? This work­place is f---ing crazy,” Freyer told the man­ager, ac­cord­ing to the no­tice of hear­ing;

On or about March 21, 2015, Freyer is al­leged to have told one in­mate “now go back to bed you big f---ing dummy,” or words to that ef­fect. She told an­other in­mate “if you don’t clean up your cell to­mor­row you’re not get­ting your meds” and/or “you’re not an an­i­mal so don’t live like one;”

On or about April 20, 2015, Freyer is al­leged to have re­fused to go to a meet­ing on client-care is­sues her man­ager had asked her to at­tend, say­ing “I don’t care what the f--- you say, I’m tired of be­ing run around;”

On or about June 22, 2015, Freyer is al­leged to have failed to ad­min­is­ter methadone to four in­mates and subox­one, an­other drug used to treat opi­oid ad­dic­tion, to a fifth in­mate;

On or about July 17, 2015, Freyer is al­leged to have given a 20-mg dose of methadone to an in­mate who was only sup­posed get a five mg dose, then failed to doc­u­ment and re­port the er­ror; and

On or about Jan. 17, 2016, Freyer al­legedly gave two in­mates a sec­ond dose of methadone — 70 mg and 110 mg, re­spec­tively — even though both had al­ready re­ceived their daily dose. The col­lege also al­leges Freyer tried to al­ter the notes made by the pre­vi­ous nurse and failed to doc­u­ment and re­port her own er­ror. It also al­leges that she failed to mon­i­tor the two in­mates for symp­toms of over­dose. (The col­lege does not say what, if any­thing, hap­pened to the in­mates).

Freyer ac­knowl­edges she had fre­quent dis­putes with man­agers, but told this pa­per she never made the “pill counter” com­ment, and the “big f----ng dummy” name was al­ways said in jest. “The ex­pres­sion is ‘ya big god­damn dummy.’ I called my col­leagues that. They called me that. But it was al­ways a joke.”

In the in­stances of missed methadone doses, she says it wasn’t done ma­li­ciously, but be­cause of the work­load Freyer had when she worked nights as the only nurse in the in­sti­tu­tion.

She does, how­ever, ac­knowl­edge dou­bling up on the doses for two in­mates in Jan­uary 2016. It hap­pened when labour re­la­tions at the jail were at a low and staff nar­rowly averted a strike. Freyer said she had changed up her reg­u­lar rou­tine and mis­tak­enly gave two in­mates methadone doses she had pre­pared for the next day.

“I got con­fused, I pulled (the dose) from the cart and dou­ble dosed. And it’s five to mid­night. You’re run­ning around all night, still giv­ing methadone and it’s al­most mid­night,” she said.

“There’s no doubt it was a med­i­ca­tion er­ror and I didn’t deal with it ra­tio­nally.”

She said she skipped a team meet­ing be­cause she needed to read up on the med­i­ca­tions she had to give three new pa­tients, in­clud­ing a preg­nant woman and an in­mate who’d had a kid­ney trans­plant.

“I liked to set those peo­ple aside be­cause the med­i­ca­tion I’m giv­ing them I’m not fa­mil­iar with, so I wanted to do some home­work on it. The man­ager says, ‘I want you at the morn­ing meet­ing now.’ Well, I didn’t think it ap­pro­pri­ate that I go to the morn­ing meet­ing and leave my work in­com­plete.”

Scott Forde, the act­ing pres­i­dent of OPSEU Lo­cal 411, which rep­re­sents work­ers at OCDC, re­mem­bered Freyer as a pop­u­lar nurse liked by staff and in­mates, but one who was fre­quently in trouble with man­age­ment be­cause of her strong opin­ions.

“She chal­lenged (man­age­ment) be­cause she felt they were ask­ing nurses to do a job that she didn’t think was pos­si­ble,” Forde said.

“On be­half of the nurs­ing sta­tion, I can say that they have been hor­ri­bly short-staffed for a num­ber of years now. Cur­rently, they’re sup­posed to have a staff of 25 and they’re at 16.”

“I know that ev­ery ef­fort is be­ing made to fix that — largely due to in­ves­ti­ga­tions and me­dia pres­sure — but when we were short staffed as cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers, the nurses were in the same boat,” he said.

When the jail is short-staffed with cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers, in­mates can be con­fined to their cells to re­duce the guards’ work­loads. But lock­downs can’t re­duce the med­i­cal de­mands on nurses, he said.

“When you are run­ning around dou­ble- or triple-du­tied it is chal­leng­ing at best. Our nurses are very pro­fes­sional but the more they’re asked to do in a short time, the like­lier they are to make a mis­take or to cut cor­ners.”

The Min­istry of Com­mu­nity Safety and Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices has a “ro­bust over­sight and in­ves­ti­ga­tion process to en­sure that staff con­duct is ap­pro­pri­ate and com­pli­ant,” spokesman An­drew Mor­ri­son said in an email.

“As part of the on­go­ing trans­for­ma­tion of On­tario’s cor­rec­tional sys­tem, the min­istry is im­prov­ing con­di­tions for both staff and in­mates at all cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties. At OCDC, the min­istry has hired six new nurses to help al­le­vi­ate work­load pres­sures,” he said.

If the com­plaint against Freyer is up­held at the col­lege, she could have her nurs­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion sus­pended or re­voked per­ma­nently, face rep­ri­mand and or be fined up to $35,000.

Freyer, who moved to Al­berta to be closer to fam­ily and is no longer work­ing, said she doesn’t in­tend to fight the col­lege.

“Ev­ery­one told me I was a tar­get and, by the love of God, they got me.”

The Col­lege of Nurses of On­tario cites seven in­ci­dents in its no­tice of hear­ing posted on­line,


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