A group of Maitland Hospital’s longest-serving Pink Ladies has quit the volunteer organisation amid claims of mistreatment and discrimination.
With more than 100 years of service between them, Barbara Kirkwood, Berris Dean, Beth Harold, Robyn Edwards and Leonie Taylor have made the heartbreaking decision to leave the service following a series of events stemming back to 2010.
The women believe they have been mistreated and were left with no choice but to quit the service – now known as Maitland Hospital Volunteers – that has been part of Maitland Hospital’s history for more than 40 years.
They took this course of action after a hospital investigation found that allegations levelled against them were unfounded.
“This has been a big decision for me because that hospital has been a big part of my life,” former Pink Ladies president Barbara Kirkwood said. “We feel we have been discriminated against and we haven’t had the support of the hospital.”
Mrs Kirkwood, a volunteer of 29 years, said the problems arose in 2010 with the appointment of a paid co-ordinator.
She said in the months that followed Pink Ladies were removed from various parts of the hospital – where they had volunteered for more than 20 years – and some volunteers were accused of breaching a code of conduct while others were reprimanded for making tea for paramedics and helping to make a bed.
“We had nowhere to turn and there was no support offered to us. No one has stopped to consider all the years of service, all the hard work. We have been here all these years and never had a blemish on our names,” Mrs Kirkwood said.
Mrs Taylor, a volunteer of 23 years, was also accused of breaking the code of conduct after complaints were made against her.
“I was treated like a criminal. It was disgraceful. I got a letter in the mail regarding the investigation saying there was no evidence to substantiate the allegations [against her], so they put me through hell for nothing,” she said.
During their final months at the hospital Mrs Dean, Mrs Harold and Mrs Edwards were also called to appear before hospital management for allegedly breaking the code of conduct.
“In the end we just couldn’t stay with all the stuff that was going on, but none of us wanted to leave, it’s very sad. We are not troublemakers and I have loved this with a passion, but it got to the point where I couldn’t stand it anymore,” Mrs Dean, a Pink Lady for 18 years, said. “I just feel sorry for all the women who went before us and started this organisation.”
Maitland Hospital general manager Trish Wilson said an investigation into reports of bullying and harassment [against the Pink Ladies] was undertaken and it was found the allegations were unfounded.
“Hunter New England Health does not tolerate bullying and harassment of any kind, and all staff and volunteers must uphold the hospital code of conduct,” Ms Wilson said. “In 2010, Maitland Hospital appointed a volunteer co-ordinator who has worked tirelessly to ensure volunteers at the hospital are supported and have an enjoyable experience.
“Unfortunately a small number of volunteers have decided they can no longer continue their service at the hospital and we are greatly saddened by this.”
Leaving the service is especially poignant for Mrs Edwards, whose mother and aunt were original members of the Pink Ladies.
“I was accused of doing all this stuff that I didn’t do and I got no apology, so I just can’t go back.”
Ms Wilson said the Pink Ladies and the many other volunteer groups that dedicate their time to Maitland Hospital are a treasured resource.
“We are extremely grateful for the contribution to the comfort and assistance of patients and visitors.”
■ The Pink Ladies began at Maitland Hospital more than 40 years ago with five women volunteering to support patients during their hospital stay. During the past few years the role of the Pink Lady has changed with many volunteers assisting medical staff while also attending the needs of patients.