Healthcare
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria nursing student kicked out of program for staying home while COVID-positive

Helen missed four days of clinical work at a long term care facility to protect vulnerable patients from the virus. Sprott Shaw College failed her for it.

By Brishti Basu
July 13, 2022
Healthcare
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria nursing student kicked out of program for staying home while COVID-positive

Helen missed four days of clinical work at a long term care facility to protect vulnerable patients from the virus. Sprott Shaw College failed her for it.

By Brishti Basu
Jul 13, 2022
Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily. Illustration: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily
Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily. Illustration: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily
Healthcare
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria nursing student kicked out of program for staying home while COVID-positive

Helen missed four days of clinical work at a long term care facility to protect vulnerable patients from the virus. Sprott Shaw College failed her for it.

By Brishti Basu
July 13, 2022
Get the news and events in Victoria, in your inbox every morning.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Victoria nursing student kicked out of program for staying home while COVID-positive
Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily. Illustration: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily

Helen started feeling ill on June 24, and a rapid test soon showed why: she had COVID-19. As a student studying to be a Licensed Practical Nurse at Sprott Shaw College, she had a shift in her clinical rotation the following day, so she let her supervisors know she was beginning her self-isolation as required by the province.

She was thrown out of the program less than a week later—specifically for missing a third of her clinical hours, “due to positive COVID.”

Support Your Community, Support Local Journalism

With paid membership, every penny goes directly to helping our newsroom continue its work and helps our team grow and expand our coverage

Become an Insider

Helen, whose name has been changed upon request to protect her future prospects at other nursing schools, was specifically working at a long-term care facility, Veterans Memorial Lodge.

“I was expecting them to come up with a resolution or something that they can do to help me,” Helen told Capital Daily. “So I was thrown completely off by that.” 

She had already spent days emailing members of the administration, including the program coordinator and director, to figure out what she could do to make up for the four days of clinical work she had missed. 

A copy of the notice Helen was given by Sprott Shaw College (Submitted)

On June 29, Helen was informed by the program director that because she had missed those four days, they would "not be able to assess specific things like teamwork, communication, time management, prioritization when caring for more than one resident on a given day or providing basic care in the clinical setting.” The dismissal notice, signed by director Anne Wilkes, followed the next day.

Sick and unable to meet with administrators in person to advocate for herself, Helen sent her mother to discuss the issue and initiate a dispute resolution process with the college. Neither Helen, nor her mother, were given clarification on what the school’s COVID-19 absence policy is.

“When I met with the director, I had asked her for policy [about COVID-19 absences],” Helen’s mother told Capital Daily. “I had said to her, ‘Surely, we're coming out of a two-year global pandemic. I can't imagine that you weren't all sitting around a table two years ago, trying to figure out how you're going to manage students getting ill.’

“I have not had a clear answer around that.”

Her dismissal comes at a point where BC is in the midst of a critical healthcare worker shortage fuelled by burnout, COVID-19, and overall deteriorating workplace conditions

“It’s not the best optics for nursing in general … where the values should be about evidence-based practice,” said Damien Contandriopoulos, a professor at the UVic nursing school. 

“Decisions should be made focused on the well-being of the patient and their family,” he added. “Putting the residents at risk of catching COVID and potentially serious outcomes is completely inappropriate.” 

Nursing students, professors, and internal policies at other nursing programs across Vancouver Island are in agreement: students are never dismissed simply for staying away from patients while sick. 

‘Completely insane’

Contandriopoulos says he has never heard of a situation like Helen’s and calls Sprott Shaw College’s reasons for dismissing her, “completely insane.” 

“Someone who is sick has a right not to work or not to study and just rest and get better,” Contandriopoulos told Capital Daily. “But with COVID and especially in long-term care, the risk that someone infected brings to the residents is so obvious, [so] well documented that it’s just mind blowing that someone could think it’s a good idea to send a student while positive to work.”

UVic, Camosun, and Vancouver Island University—Island institutions that offer nursing programs—have all confirmed that no nursing student has ever been dismissed from their program for missing too many clinical hours due to being COVID-positive.

“Students who have missed clinical due to COVID related reasons have opportunities to complete the required learning outcomes to successfully pass their clinical courses,” wrote a spokesperson for Camosun College. “This can be done by using simulation and/or receiving an ‘in progress’ grade. The IP grade allows them to make up missed learning outcomes in their next clinical placement.” 

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training told Capital Daily in an email that while the ministry is responsible for funding post-secondary institutions, the institutions themselves are in charge of  health and safety planning and making sure public health orders are adhered to. 

According to Contandriopoulos, Sprott Shaw College’s decision goes against best practices in the nursing industry. “They should be ashamed of themselves and they should apologize to [the] student and reintegrate [them] in the program.”

He also brought up the notion that this decision could be financially motivated, as a private college. 

“There's at least [a] potential question mark on how such an institution balances its interest for tuition and the best interest of the students, and that’s always been a tension in private institutions,” Contandriopoulos said.

At UVic and Camosun’s joint Nursing program, he says the policy from the beginning has been to let students stay home when sick without expecting them to provide any medical proof. 

“I would be really surprised if anything even close to this would happen at UVic.”

Sprott Shaw responds

Helen has heard conflicting responses from Sprott Shaw since the initial decision to fail her out of the program—now, administrators say she can make up the clinical days she missed. But even then, she was told she would need to reapply to continue the program she was already in.

Essentially, if Helen passes level one after redoing the missed time, she would have to wait for a few months until applications for the next level two of the program begins. At that point, she could have to pay around $1,500 to re-apply and start that process all over again. 

“I kind of would rather just pass level one and maybe apply to Camosun or something, but it still puts me behind because I’d be waiting on the waitlist,” Helen said. 

Deej James, Vice President of Operations at Sprott Shaw College, responded to Capital Daily’s interview request with an emailed statement.

“If a student is not able to complete for health reasons, the withdrawal is non-punitive, meaning that the student is not financially penalized, and is provided with an opportunity to re-sit once they are in better health,” it reads.

James also noted the college has introduced some learning accommodations due to the pandemic, including remote classes and limited use of virtual simulations for “some clinic-based teaching.” However these simulations, abbreviated as “V-sim exercises” in Helen’s dismissal notice, were deemed not good enough to “fill the learning gap.” 

The VP did not clarify what accommodations are available through the college to students who miss clinical hours due to COVID-19, but noted that it is partly influenced by the facility’s own guidelines.

“For example, a return date may be agreed to by the student, however if  the proposed date does not meet the site return guidelines, completion of the clinical may not allow the student to continue within the original time trajectory,” James wrote.

According to Helen, she had already reached out to Veterans Memorial Lodge on June 28 and been told that she could return after her five-day isolation period if she tested negative for COVID. Unfortunately, Helen tested positive again the next day and therefore could not go back. 

At another meeting with administrators on July 12 after the queries from Capital Daily and dogged self-advocacy by Helen—“I have really had to fight to get this meeting,” Helen told Capital Daily in a text message—she was finally told she would not have to pay to reapply, and that she could join the next level two cohort starting in December as long as there is space for her. According to James, there is usually a waitlist for the 16 LPN seats at Sprott Shaw, and re-entry students are prioritized. 

Even at this final meeting, Helen says administrators did not outline a COVID-19 absence policy, or indicate that they even have one. “I feel as though there were so many obstacles and hurdles I had to jump through to try and get a fair shot at completing this,” she said in a text. 

The entire ordeal has thrown Helen’s career off track, forcing her to pause her education and re-apply to a program she was already in. 

“At this point I just don't even know if I want to do nursing anymore,” she said. “It's frustrating because I've always wanted to be a nurse.”


Editor's note: An earlier version of this article referred to the student as Kate. However, another Sprott Shaw College student, whose actual name is Kate, reached out with a concern over being mistakenly identified as the pseudonymous Kate from our article. The alias has been changed to avoid confusion.

tips@capitaldaily.ca

Support Your Community, Support Local Journalism

With paid membership, every penny goes directly to helping our newsroom continue its work and helps our team grow and expand our coverage

Become an Insider

Related News

Victorians’ health and wellness on a steady decline over past three years: report
Stay connected to your city with the Capital Daily newsletter.
By filling out the form above, you agree to receive emails from Capital Daily. You can unsubscribe at any time.