A Cork woman who harassed a doctor at her child’s hospital for over two years has walked free from court after being handed a suspended prison sentence.
Marlies Walsh (50) of Pedlers Cross, Clonakilty, Co. Cork pleaded guilty to one count of harassment at Temple Street Hospital, Dublin. She has no previous convictions.
Walsh contacted the doctor and others at the hospital by phone and email over a period between December 2017 and August 2020 as she wanted to work as a patient advocate. Her son, now 20, was a transplant patient at the hospital.
Judge Elma Sheahan said Walsh engaged in “repeated harassment” of the doctor and every effort had been made to get Walsh to stop her behavior before a formal complaint was made to gardaí.
Imposing sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court on Thursday, Judge Sheahan imposed a two-year sentence, which she suspended on strict conditions. She also barred Walsh from communicating with the doctor or approaching his residence or place of work for 20 years.
Garda Emer Cantwell told Kate Egan BL, prosecuting, that Walsh’s son had been a kidney transplant patient at Temple Street Hospital. Walsh indicated to the team that she wished to become involved in advocacy on behalf of patients and families.
The transplant team declined her offer as there was already a full-time team of this nature in place. Her son’s care was transferred to Cork, but Walsh continued to contact the hospital and doctors. She also made unannounced visits to Temple Street.
Staff re-iterated to Walsh that no role in patient advocacy was available. The doctor and his team became concerned that Walsh’s actions were causing disruption to patient care.
On one occasion, the doctor spoke with Walsh for 20 minutes to clarify the situation. During this meeting, Walsh appeared surprised to hear that there were professionals working in the area of patient advocacy attached to the team, but she acknowledged what the doctor said.
The doctor later received a parcel from Walsh, which contained her CV. The doctor and his team then referred Walsh’s communications to hospital senior management. It was decided that any further communications from Walsh would be diverted to senior managers at Temple Street.
Walsh later sent a letter to the hospital and Temple Street management responded. Walsh continued to call the hospital asking to speak to the doctor. She also copied him into emails sent to other hospital staff in which she expressed her desire to take on a patient advocacy role.
In April 2018, the hospital asked Walsh not to contact Temple Street, unless it related to her son’s care. On August 14, 2018, the doctor became alarmed after receiving an envelope from Walsh which contained a handmade object tied with a ribbon, post-it notes and 5 A4 sheets.
One of the pages included a drawing of a stick figure with no legs. Walsh included a message asking the doctor to call her. Another envelope sent by Walsh to the doctor contained three small envelopes and had “no risk” written on the inside.
The small envelopes were labeled past, present and future and contained items including Walsh’s business card, a spool of golden thread and a note using the question style of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ with Walsh as the ‘phone a friend’ option. The doctor was distressed to receive this package and worried for his safety.
Gardaí were contacted, but no formal complaint was made at this stage. Garda Cantwell confirmed that she spoke informally with Walsh on October 12, 2018. She said Walsh indicated she would not go back to Temple Street. However, Walsh continued to contact the doctor and the hospital.
On October 16, 2018, Walsh made a visit to the renal outpatient clinic and asked to speak to the doctor. Temple Street sent a letter to Walsh asking her to stop contacting hospital staff, but she continued.
On February 12, 2019, Walsh was sitting in the reception area asking to speak with the doctor. He felt anxious and concerned for his safety and the safety of others. He remained in the nurse’s office while another manager spoke with Walsh in a different office.
At this stage, a formal complaint was made to gardaí. Walsh continued to contact the hospital by phone and email, but at a lower frequency. Walsh was co-operative when interviewed by gardaí. She was charged in April 2020 and the bail conditions set included that she stay away from the hospital.
Walsh did not initially comply with this condition and gardaí sought a warrant to revoke her bail. She subsequently complied with all bail conditions following a district court hearing in August 2020.
Gda Cantwell agreed with Patrick McCarthy BL, defending, that his client’s son has had health difficulties from an early age and underwent a kidney transplant at the age of 12. Gda Cantwell said she accepted Walsh’s son’s health has since deteriorated and he is now on a transplant waiting list.
She agreed Walsh was cooperative and identified emails she sent to the doctor. Walsh had only contacted the doctor and the hospital during working hours and used professional email addresses. Gda Cantwell agreed that Walsh was under a huge amount of stress at the time.
Ms. Egan read the victim impact statement from the doctor to the court. He said he was “disappointed” that it had not been possible to resolve this issue informally. The doctor said Walsh’s behavior was “disruptive” to patient care and caused distress to him and his team.
He said he believes in patient advocacy and while Walsh believed she should be given a formal role, the team had concerns that this could be a risk to patients. The doctor said he made the statement with “deep regret” and wished Walsh well for the future.
Mr McCarthy said his client is a mother of two. Her younger child has experienced serious health difficulties. His client felt some communication with the hospital was not helpful and her interest in becoming a patient advocate developed from this. She undertook training in this area and certificates were handed into the court.
His client wanted to help others and contacted the doctor and the hospital due to this desire. During 2017 and 2018, he said his client was under extreme stress and attending a psychologist.
Mr McCarthy asked Judge Sheahan to take account of his client’s previous good character and to consider giving his client the benefit of the Probation Act. Several references were handed into the court on Walsh’s behalf.
Judge Sheahan said the court accepts that Walsh’s offending occurred at a time of great stress due to her son’s ill health. Judge Sheahan said the “level of distress” felt by a family going through the kidney transplant process can be immense.
However, she said Walsh’s actions had also caused a huge amount of distress to the doctor, who is caring for sick children.
In mitigation, she noted Walsh’s guilty plea, her previous good character, the context of the offending and her role as a mother. Judge Sheahan noted Walsh had been an “upstanding member of her community” and had not served a custodial sentence before.
She noted that the doctor and the hospital have said they don’t want Walsh to have a conviction, However, Walsh had engaged in “repeated harassment” and it would not be appropriate to leave her without a conviction, Judge Sheahan said.
Judge Sheahan set a headline sentence of three years. Taking the mitigating factors into consideration, she reduced the sentence to two years.
She suspended the sentence in full on strict conditions including that Walsh have no contact with the doctor or Children’s Hospital Ireland for this period. She further banned Walsh from communicating with the doctor or approaching his residence or place of work for 20 years.