Bat woman to be reinstated

A LISMORE mental health nurse sacked for bringing bats to work has won an unfair dismissal case.

NSW Industrial Relations Commission found termination of Christine Borthistle's employment as a mental health nurse in Lismore Adult Mental Health Unit was "harsh" and that she had not been given an opportunity to argue her case.

In February 2011, a complaint was made against Ms Borthistle after she brought a caged bat into the mental health unit.

North Coast Area Mental Health Services director Richard Buss subsequently issued her with a warning letter which says: "Bats can be carriers of many diseases including rabies and bat lyssa virus infection.

"The bringing of bats and other animals into a hospital ward poses serious risks to patients and other staff and undermines the professionalism and credibility of the unit. This practice is totally unacceptable."

However, four days later, Ms Borthistle rescued another injured bat and handed it over to a fellow animal rescue volunteer in Lismore Base Hospital car park.

Mr Buss saw the exchange and alerted North Coast Area Health Service head Chris Crawford, who sacked Ms Borthistle.

Mr Crawford claimed Ms Borthistle had shown direct disregard for the warning letter.

However, Ms Borthistle took the matter to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission and claimed the bats never posed a threat to her or other people.

Mr Crawford rejected her claim and said the Northern Rivers was in a period of emergency management response from June to September 2011 due to a Hendra virus outbreak.

Ms Borthistle told the commission termination of her employment had left her in a dire fin- ancial situation and unable to pay off large debts.

During the hearing, it became known Ms Borthistle brought another bat to work in 2008 and also parked in a space reserved for a Community Mental Health Services courier in 2011 because she had an injured magpie in her car.

The health district has been ordered to reinstate Ms Borthistle within two weeks.

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