Respiratory therapy students mull lawsuit over botched exam

Photo: cbc


Nearly 400 respiratory therapy students from across Canada are considering suing the company responsible for a software meltdown during their critical final accreditation exam last month.

Joshua Oelsner took the test in Ottawa, where he said students had already sat through four hours of the six-hour exam when their computer screens began displaying the message: “Cannot save your answer.”

“It was extremely frustrating,” Oelsner said. “It takes weeks of preparation. We have to take time off every time you do this.”

The exam is given twice a year, in January and July, and is the last step before students can become registered respiratory therapists (RRTs). Professional RRTs work mostly with patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

But when 388 students sat for the exam July 9, the exam software suffered a massive failure across all time zones.

Joshua Oelsner is one of nearly 400 respiratory therapy students who must retake their final accreditation exam after a software failure in July. (CBC)

Company reneges on refund

Initially, Yardstick Assessment Strategies, the software company responsible for the exam program, took full responsibility for the failure. The company added two free retake dates and promised to refund each student the entire exam fee of $899.

But as the retake dates approached, the company instead offered each student a refund of just $290.

“We had hoped to refund the entire exam fee, but since the remaining portion of the fee is money that we collect and remit for others, we are not able to refund those amounts,” the company stated in a letter to students last week.

The president and COO of the company, Isabelle Gonthier, told CBC the company is not “in a position to refund the amount.”

Gonthier said the company has conducted at least five tests over the past three years for The Canadian Board for Respiratory Care (CBRC), the body that regulates the therapists, and this is the first failure.

“We want to apologize for this and the stress to students because we didn’t deliver, and we’re doing what we can to address situation,” Gonthier said.

But that’s not good enough for Oelsner, who said students are organizing online and have decided not to cash their refund cheques while they decide on potential legal action.

“We’d rather just get our money back,” Oelsner said.

Oelsner said students now face not just the inconvenience of having to retake the exam and a delay in accreditation, but also lost wages while they study all over again.

Consequences mount for Yardstick

CBRC chair Julie Brown said the board has talked with its lawyers to discuss the possibility of ending its contract with Yardstick.

“I understand mistakes happen. I’m OK with that. What I have a problem with is how they deal with it after the fact,” Brown said.

The board will meet with Yardstick next Wednesday to make the case for a full refund for students. Brown said the board will stand behind students if they decide to take legal action.

Oelsner said the whole experience has left many students feeling angry.

“It’s just disrespectful,” he said.

Isabelle Gonthier, president and COO of Yardstick Assessment Strategies, says the company cannot keep its promise to fully refund the students, but is offering a free retake.
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