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Fired Up Over Firings

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Some specific provisions that might have been considered by area hospitals during the blizzards include the following:

  • A facility's emergency operations plan must describe how the hospital will handle staff support activities, including housing, transportation, and mental health. In other words, it may fall to an organization to find sleeping quarters for employees who get stranded at the hospital because of inclement weather, and a facility may also need to consider whether it will travel out to workers' homes to pick them up.
  • The emergency operations plan must describe how the hospital will support the needs of employees' families, including child care, elder care, communication, and pet care. Clearly babysitting services, which appear to have played a role in at least some of the absenteeism at Washington Hospital Center, are a big concern to address ahead of time in The Joint Commission's eyes.

About 250 nurses at Washington Hospital Center didn't arrive for their shifts during the storms, The Washington Post reported. It seems likely some of the nurses who didn't get fired had childcare issues that were taken into consideration, although it's not clear how much leeway was granted in that regard.

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.

Weather-related emergencies would be one area to review 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.

Written by Scott Wallask on March 8

Blizzard firings threaten nurse morale
Washington Hospital Center wouldn't discuss the decision or its fallout with me, due to pending grievances filed by a nursing union. I hope to speak to senior leadership at some point to discuss how their decisions have affected their relationship with the hospital's remaining nurses.

Stephen Frum, chief shop steward for Nurses United of the National Capital Region, has worked at the hospital for nine years and says hospital policy does not state that employees will be fired for missing work in such situations.

"The hospital has managed these things really well for a long time," says Frum. "In this instance, they chose to depart completely from how they have effectively done this before."

Frum says many more employees than the ones who were fired did not make it to work. What were the differences in these situations? Without making it clear, nurses may be left wondering. Any appearance of partiality is dangerous to morale and potentially exposes organizations to liability.

With regular disciplinary matters, managers know that to allow some employees to engage in certain behaviors and then fire other employees for the same conduct, is setting oneself up for a lawsuit.

To be honest and fair, all employees must know the disciplinary policies that will be enforced. Only through consistent and open polices will nurses feel they can't be fired on a whim.

Written by Rebecca Hendren on March 9

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