ACN terminates key executives after investigating financial irregularities

Published on 17 May 2024 (Last updated on 22 May 2024)

Karoline Dawe (L) and Kylie Ward (R), have both seen their contracts terminated by ACN. [Facebook] 

Controversy has erupted at the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) after they announced three senior team members have departed following an independent investigation into financial irregularities at ACN.

The departures include CEO Kylie Ward, who held the position since 2015, National Director, Partnerships Karoline Dawe and Chief Operating Officer Neil Haynes.

Both Ms Ward and Ms Dawe saw their employment terminated by the Board while an ACN spokesperson said Mr Haynes failed to uphold acceptable governance practices and policies and has left the organisation.

“The investigation, which was carried out by third-party legal and forensic financial experts, concluded that in relation to Ms Ward and Ms Dawe there were financial irregularities and that actions by them were undertaken despite the clear established policies, delegations and ethical standards of the ACN,” the spokesperson said via a statement provided to hello leaders.

Separate statements by Ms Ward and Mr Haynes have seen them deny all allegations and accusations. Meanwhile, a fourth employee was asked to stand aside during the investigation but they have since returned to the role after with no findings against them.

According to the ABC, ACN, the for-purpose peak body for nursing in Australia, began the investigation when internal complaints prompted cause for concern over financial irregularities. 

This independent investigation reportedly lasted for more than a month and it resulted in the termination of both Ms Ward and Ms Dawe. 

While it was revealed on April 10 that Ms Ward had been stood down, the former ACN CEO said in a public statement she only learned of her termination when ACN emailed its members on May 15. ACN said it had notified Ms Ward via her lawyer.

“I want to thank all the beautiful people who have held space for me, sending your love and support. Every day for the past six weeks I have been inundated with hundreds of messages of love, strength, solidarity, and support. Each of you carried me through dark days – I thank you and I will never forget your kindness, compassion and courage,” Ms Ward said.

“It has been my honour to dedicate 34 years of my life to the nursing profession. I have met the most wonderful people but recent events that have left me feeling humiliated, broken, violated of my rights to a fair process, my confidentiality breached and given to stakeholders and the media have shattered my spirits.”

“To be a woman in leadership is not for the faint-hearted and we still have a long way to go to be treated with dignity, professionalism, or the same as a man.”

In a separate statement shared by ABC, Ms Ward denied the allegations and said she will pursue her legal options. She also said all finances of ACN were independently audited and signed off by the Board during my appointment as the CEO.

Mr Haynes, who was named COO of the Year in 2021 by CEO Magazine, also denied the accusations, although he was not found to be responsible for any financial irregularities.

Meanwhile, the ACN Board said the investigation and its findings have not impacted the organisation’s operations or financial position. They remain committed to a culture of accountability, transparency and ethical leadership.

“We are extremely grateful for the performance of staff who have stepped up and supported the organisation through a difficult period, as well as for the support of our broader community during this process,” their statement added.

“We are taking all necessary steps to ensure a smooth transition and remain dedicated to our mission and to serving our community and members with excellence.”

Emeritus Professor Leanne Boyd has stepped in as the Interim CEO while ACN conducts its recruitment process for all three vacant positions. Professor Boyd previously held the position of Executive Director Learning and Teaching/Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer at Eastern Health. 

“The Board remains focused on our shared goals and mission and is confident that this period of transition will allow us to strengthen our organisation and culture, and emerge even stronger,” ACN’s statement concluded.

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