Hospital Systems and other Employers in Health Care may NOT Retaliate against Whistleblowers and Health Care Workers who Challenge Adequacy of Coronavirus/Covid-19 Safety Practices

Beyond the terrible stories of first responders dying from an absence of basic protective equipment, stories are emerging of even more despicable behavior from hospital systems and major healthcare employers. These are tales of craven cowardice and petty revenge, and of intolerable selfishness in a time of global crisis. Some hospital systems are actually punishing doctors and other health professionals for daring to criticize obvious failures to protect hospital personnel and the public.

Consider, for instance, the case of an emergency room doctor in Bellingham, Washington. Dr. Ming Lin is a highly experienced emergency physician, and was a first-responder on scene after the 9/11 attacks. According to a report in the Guardian from March 28, Dr. Lin was fired from his job at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center (he was employed through the staffing firm TeamHealth) for complaining that nurses were not given enough gowns to protect themselves, and that there was no area for staff to decontaminate. The New York Times reported that Dr. Lin pleaded for improved protections for both the patients and the staff on social media. He stated that the hospital was using high-risk screening procedures, in which patients were evaluated inside the waiting room (instead of isolating suspect cases outside of the facility, possibly using tents, as many hospitals do). Dr. Lin reported:

There was “no way for us to prevent us from becoming the vector for our family and our community,”

Incredibly, rather than listen to him, Dr. Lin’s employer fired him. Assuming Dr. Lin’s account is accurate, this would have been illegal, and grotesquely misguided.

Washington employment law prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers. There is a clear mandate of public policy in Washington of ensuring that employers do not discharge health care workers in retaliation for reporting circumstances or conditions that are likely to endanger the public health.[1] In addition, the Federal Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act protects health care workers who make reports of circumstances that they are concerned – in good faith – might constitute a threat to the health or safety of patients, or which might compromise the public health.[2]

At NWBizLaw, we have years of experience of litigation in employment law, including a prominent case in which a physician was wrongfully terminated for reporting his concerns about the risks his employer was taking with patient health. If you or a loved one has suffered a loss of employment for expressing concerns about COVID-19/Coronavirus response, or if you’ve suffered workplace harassment for the same reasons, call us today at (206) 462-0501.

 

[1] See e.g. Shaw v. Housing Authority of City of Walla Walla, 75 Wash.App. 755, 880 P.2d 1006 (1994). See also infra PSQIA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 299b–22(e)(1)–(2). “One recognized contravention of a clear mandate of public policy is a discharge premised on employee “whistleblowing” activities.”

[2] Such health care workers should take care to make a record that they intend their reports to be submitted to a Patient Safety Organization, as defined under Federal rules.

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