The firings of 15 nurses and six other essential personnel by Washington (DC) Hospital Center for failing to show up to work during blizzards opens the door to discuss what The Joint Commission expects of hospitals and staff during an emergency.
The staffers, who have been fired, called in when storms dumped more than 40 inches of snow on the DC area between Feb. 5 and Feb. 11. Hospital officials said they offered transportation for the nurses and also alerted staff beforehand that they should make accommodations, such as staying at the hospital, when the storms hit.
Nurses United of the National Capital Region, a union that represents nurses from Washington Hospital Center, has filed a labor grievance with the facility over the firings.
Joint Commission emergency management standard EM.02.02.07 comes into play with this situation. The standard sets a variety of provisions on how a hospital manages staff roles and responsibilities during a disaster. The idea is that an organization and its workers must be able to adapt from normal routines when dealing with an emergency.
Some specific provisions that might have been considered by area hospitals during the blizzards include the following:
Another Joint Commission standard requires hospitals to annually review the findings of their "hazard vulnerability analysis." This analysis weighs the risks of a given emergency against the likelihood of it happening, and then ranks the resulting consequences.
The Washington Hospital Center situation should prompt all medical facilities to reconsider any findings in the hazard vulnerability analysis that hinge on staff members showing up to work. Weather-related emergencies would be one area to review again with a critical eye in the analysis, but also look at terrorist threats that could lead to worried workers either staying with family members or avoiding public areas, such as hospitals, out of fear of follow-up attacks.