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Fired Up Over Firings

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A major controversy in the nation's capital (that did not involve politicians) could have national ramifications.

Controversial healthcare news from Washington hasn't only come from the Capitol and White House.

One of the hottest topics this year involved the firing of 21 Washington Hospital Center employees, including 15 nurses and six "essential" personnel members because they didn't go to work during a blizzard that crippled the DC area.

The hospital argued that employees were told to take proper precautions and the hospital had also provided food and shelter for employees during and after the storm. However, a number of employees, including the 21 who were ultimately dismissed, didn't make it to the hospital for their shift.

While most of the country is beyond blizzard season by now, there are implications for healthcare leaders regarding staff management and discipline issues, as well as Joint Commission standards. Here is a look at excerpts from coverage on these topics by the HealthLeaders Media online news team and our senior editor for nurse leadership.

Hospital fires nurses for missing work because of blizzard
The president of Washington Hospital Center said that findings from an internal review have prompted the hospital to begin proceedings to dismiss 15 nurses for missing work because of a blizzard.

In a memo to hospital staff, Washington Hospital Center CEO Harrison J. Rider III said three employees who were initially planned to be dismissed have been reinstated Altogether, the hospital is dismissing 21 employees—15 nurses and six "essential" personnel members.

Rider expressed displeasure about 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 that indicates employees would not be dismissed during a declared emergency.

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 during 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."

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 other accommodations, such as staying at the hospital.

To accommodate workers who spent the night at the hospital, Rider said the hospital provided 7,300 meal vouchers and sleeping arrangements at various times, as best as possible, for 2,200 hospital staffers.

Written by Joe Cantlupe on March 4

Review Joint Commission standards in light of nurse firings
The firings of 15 nurses and six other essential personnel by Washington 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.

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.

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