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DC Hospital Will Fire Four More Nurses for Missing Work Because of Blizzard

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, March 4, 2010

The president of a Washington (DC) Hospital Center said Wednesday that findings from an internal review have prompted the hospital to begin proceedings to dismiss 15 nurses for missing work because of a blizzard. The hospital initially planned to discipline 11 nurses, but has added four to the list since it launched an investigation last week.

In a memo to hospital staff released late Wednesday, Washington Hospital Center CEO Harrison J. Rider III said three employees, who were initially planned to be dismissed, have been reinstated. Hospital officials did not say whether the employees were nurses. However, Nurses United of the National Capital Region, the local nurses union, identified them as nurses. A hospital spokeswoman could not be reached Wednesday night.

Altogether, the hospital is dismissing 21 employees—15 nurses and six "essential" personnel members, Rider said.

Rider expressed displeasure in the employees who are being fired. "While I am very pleased that we found merit in some of the cases we reviewed, we have not found any redeeming circumstances in the behavior of the others, so we are proceeding with the dismissal of 21 total associates," Rider stated.

Dismissals at Washington Hospital Center—the largest private nonprofit hospital in the DC area—have generated widespread controversy. Nurses United of the National Capital Region filed a grievance against the hospital. Stephen Frum, chief shop steward for the 1,600-member nurses union, says the union's grievance is focused in part on hospital policy which indicates that employees would not be dismissed during a declared emergency.

Frum says an additional four nurses were suspended one or two days, and the fact the nurses didn't show up at work during blizzards will be in their hospital file.

At least one nurse who was fired said she would return to work, Frum says. He hasn't talked to the others yet.

The American Nurses Association, meanwhile, has said it is looking at potential ramifications of the hospital's action, saying it is unheard of for a hospital to fire nurses because of not reporting to work because of prohibitive weather conditions. An ANA official described the hospital's actions as "quite damaging to the morale of nurses."

However, Rider said that during the blizzard "most of us served selflessly, but some chose not to come to work and walked away from the commitment they made to the patients and their fellow associates. We have continued to review each case to assure that those who shared our commitment to our patients are distinguished from those few who did not."

Rider said he was "very pleased that we have been able to rescind the dismissal of three associaties." He asked fellow employees to "welcome these individuals back to work, as we have concluded that they share our essential commitment to our patients."

The staffers who were fired did not report to work when storms dumped more than 40 inches of snow on the DC area between Feb. 5 and Feb. 11. Hospital officials said they provided transportation for the nurses and also alerted staff beforehand that they should make accommodations, such as staying at the hospital, when the storm hit.

"We do not like, nor do we take lightly, the dismissal of any associate in any circumstance," stated Rider. " "We look at each case with an eye toward favoring the associate, so that we can be comfortable that we have, and will continue to undertake, a review process that is fair and stays true to our values, and the enormous commitment each of us has made in choosing our career in healthcare."

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