Safety Not Guaranteed

Victoria Gutierrez | Bohm Law GroupNurse Macias’s life was turned upside down the day she was terminated. She joined the medical profession because she wanted to provide the best possible care for her patients. For twenty-five years, Nurse Macias received excellent reviews for her hard work and dedication to her patients in the Emergency Room. Nurse Macias was proud that the ER followed medical procedure and kept the premises clean and safe for patients. But that all changed with new management. She never thought that she would be terminated for doing the right thing. Nurse Macias noticed that the quality of care began to change. Patients started complaining and the ER began to deteriorate. On a few occasions, there was insufficient medical equipment on supply. Nurse Macias brought this to the attention of her manager who assured her that it would not happen again. Despite assurances, the ER got worse: bloody gauze was left on the floor, sheets were not changed after a patient was discharged, bio hazardous material was not properly stored in a sealed container, and the hospital refused to hire additional nurses or staff. The nurse-patient ratio was not kept in compliance and safety problems continued to rise.

Finally after months of cleaning up after other nurses and consistently reporting patient and hospital safety problems, Nurse Macias wrote all of her complaints in a letter and submitted it to the Human Resources Department and the Director of Nurses. Instead of thanking Nurse Macias for bringing these problems to the attention of management, she soon experienced retaliatory actions. First, she was written up for overtime. In her twenty-five years of service, her manager always allowed her to stay late if she had work that needed to be completed. This sudden disciplinary action was a surprise because Nurse Macias had always worked overtime to make sure her patients’ care was completed for the day. Second, she was told patients were complaining about her work. In order to improve the quality of her work, she asked management for more details and about the source of the complaints. She was told it was none of her business. After asking for proof of the complaints, none was provided. Nurse Macias’s hours were then reduced from forty hours a week to thirty hours a week. Third, her supervisors and nurse peers closely watched her and even followed her around with a clip-board taking notes of her actions. Any mistake Nurse Macias made was documented. She was then placed on leave for two weeks. After returning to work, she was terminated. The reason given to Nurse Macias for her termination was that she was not the “right fit” for the hospital. The hospital had newly renovated itself and was concerned with getting patients in and out as quickly as possible, disregarding the best interest of the patient.

After Nurse Macias was terminated, she sought legal advice. State law protects hospital whistleblowers. California Health and Safety Code § 1278.5, also known as the Hospital Whistle-Blower Protection Statute, protects “patients, nurses, members of the medical staff, and other health care workers” from retaliation if they report something that endangers patient or hospital safety. Victims of hospital whistle-blowing may have one to three years from the date of the last adverse action to bring a lawsuit. An adverse action means any way in which the terms and conditions of employment have been jeopardized and includes but is not limited to: demotion, suspension, unpaid leave or termination. That means the only way you can bring a lawsuit is if you do it within one year.

Bohm Law Group encourages hospital whistle-blowers to follow these steps: 1) Make a written complaint and keep a copy of it. While verbal complaints are sufficient, written complaints can be very powerful and will help keep accurate records, 2) Take your written complaint to Human Resources, a Manager, Supervisor or anyone above them, 3) Keep a written record of any negative treatment you experience after you report the problem. Many people will be “written-up” unfairly for things that they have always done or suddenly will be treated differently than before, 4) Seek legal advice. An attorney may be able to help you achieve a better working environment and will be able to analyze the facts from a legal perspective. Maybe your case isn’t ripe, maybe there aren’t enough facts. If a retaliatory action is taken within 120 days of your complaint, there is a “presumption” in the law of California that the adverse action was retaliatory. In other words, if you complained about equipment not being properly cleaned or a baby almost died because the doctor didn’t conduct the right diagnostic tests and are fired four months later, the law is in your favor. The community needs nurses, doctors and health care workers who stand up for what is right. If you see a problem in a hospital that you work at or for, report it. It can save a life.

The information and materials on this blog are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. Nothing on this blog is intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney. If you require legal advice, please consult with an attorney.

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