The head of nursing at a Queensland aged care facility was drunk on the job and bullied her staff, a court has found.
She was also incompetent in the way she treated patients at the Millmerran Centenary Retirement Village, west of Brisbane, with some ignored and admitting they were left wallowing in pain for hours.
But despite labelling her “vindictive” and “controlling”, a judge awarded Maxine Noone $15,000 in a lawsuit against aged care advocate Heather Mansell Brown. Of the $15,000 awarded, $5000 was for aggravated damages.
Ms Brown was found to have defamed her in a series of Facebook posts in October 2017.
During the hearing, the court heard Ms Brown wrote in one post, “Well we all know one person who will not suffer dehydration, the DON drinks on duty at Millmerran”.
Ms Brown was sued after incorrectly claiming Ms Noone was sacked from a previous job over alcohol issues and missing drugs.
But the aged care advocate succeeded in defending other statements against Ms Noone, which Brisbane District Court found were substantially true.
“With complaints of staff bullying, forging signatures, miss use (sic) of medication and total lack of discernment and negligence, you should be seriously thinking of sacking your incompetent DON (director of nursing),” Ms Brown wrote in a post directed to the centre, near Toowoomba.
“Your brochure paints such a pretty picture of your establishment but I’m afraid it’s just a bad joke.
“These are frail, vulnerable lives you are playing with and deserve better.”
Ms Noone claimed Ms Brown suggested she was habitually drunk on the job when she said on Facebook “the DON (director of nursing) drinks on duty at Millmerran”.
But Ms Brown was able to defend the statement as an honestly held opinion after four staff members, including two doctors, said they observed Ms Noone working while affected by alcohol.
One staffer testified Ms Noone would often reek of alcohol at work and then eat mints to cover up the smell.
A phone conversation in which she was abusive towards a doctor was attributed to her being drunk.
Ms Noone also claimed she was made out as unfit to care for the elderly.
Those complaints were dismissed on the basis of evidence that the fluid intake of residents was restricted under her watch to reduce the need for the changing incontinence pads.
She also admitted failing to get a resident treatment for a broken hip and wrist following a fall.
The allegations of bullying and intimidation by Ms Noone were also substantiated, with one staff member resigning and another taking his complaint to the health ombudsman.
Ms Noone created workplace disharmony when she informed carers of complaints colleagues had made about them, the trial heard.
Allegations she oversaw the misuse of medication were also backed by evidence.
Judge Paul Smith only upheld her complaint regarding false statements about her previous employment.
“My overall impression on the evidence is that the plaintiff was a controlling, micromanaging and bullying individual who could be vindictive against people not in her camp,” Judge Smith said in his judgment.
Ms Noone, a nurse with more than 50 years of experience, claimed the posts horrified her.
She denied all the allegations.
Judge Smith found three of eight alleged defamatory imputations were substantially true.