The chief executive of the Auckland District Health Board appears to have acknowledged workplace bullying at the city's morgue.
Ailsa Claire wrote to staff last night after a Herald on Sunday investigation into claims of bullying at the Auckland City Hospital mortuary.
In an email with the subject "CEO News" and signed "Ailsa", she said media coverage and direct feedback from employees had led her to reflect that she needed to be clear on her position on "bullying and other unacceptable behaviour in our workplace".
Claire said more staff work in supportive teams and demonstrate the highest standards.
"However, you've told us in our recent employee survey that there are circumstances and teams where our people experience bullying or unacceptable behaviour," she wrote.
"Bullying can have a deep and lasting impact on personal and professional lives, and I am truly sorry if anyone has experienced this in our organisation.
"Over the past few years we have been on a journey together to improve our culture, and this includes the way we respond to bullying and unacceptable behaviour and as importantly to celebrate and appreciate our staff."
Claire said she, senior management teams and the ADHB were committed to providing a safe and supporting workplace.
On May 26 the ADHB would launch its new Speak Up programme, Claire said. The programme had been designed by employees from across the organisation with union support.
It would help "confront harassment, discrimination and bullying, deal with the issue and remove it".
Claire said such initiatives were not a "nice to have or "add on" but were "key organisational priorities".
"Whether you feel you have experienced bullying in the legal sense of the word, or an interaction with a colleague has failed to uphold our values of respect or welcome - it is my expectation that you always feel safe and supported," she wrote. "Tough conversations sometimes need to be had, but having a tough conversation, like discussing performance concerns, can always be done with kindness and respect.
"I will not shy away from bullying at Auckland District Health Board. I want all issues surfaced, so we can find a way to resolve them. If bullying is out there - report it. If you're scared - report it anonymously. If you want to report it to me directly - you can.
"In return I commit to being as open, honest and transparent as I can - which at times is limited by the privacy rights of individuals undergoing disciplinary processes."
A Herald on Sunday investigation uncovered claims of bullying and concerns about work practices, including the treatment of bodies at the mortuary.
The Government's workplace health and safety regulator, WorkSafe, has ordered the ADHB to hand over files relating to a formal complaint from one staff member. A second staff member, who has since left the job, has lodged a complaint with the Employment Relations Authority.
Both claim they were bullied out of their jobs in the mortuary. The women, both born in the UK, allege management knew of the bullying and failed to stop it.
They also made serious complaints about the way the mortuary handled bodies and an alleged lack of respect shown to the dead.
The Herald on Sunday spoke to five other former staff who made strikingly similar claims but did not follow up with formal complaints.
ADHB chairman Dr Lester Levy addressed those claims at today's monthly ADHB meeting.
Levy said there were issues "relating to employment tribunals and other matters that make it very difficult to speak more widely about this".
He reminded board members there had been "a total review of the forensic pathology services and significant amount of changes that followed on that, so it would be fair to say that the organisation has a real commitment to this".
"We have made a lot of progress but there is still work to do, but this still remains one of the board's most significant priorities that relates to health and safety and culture change."
In each of the past two weeks, the Herald put specific questions about people and incidents at the centre of the allegations to the ADHB communications department.
The first batch were met with a statement that referred to allegations being "unsubstantiated hearsay". Subsequent approaches were met with referrals to the initial statement.
After the Herald reported the allegations, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said it was an operational matter but he expected health boards to treat such complaints seriously.