A judge has ruled that a Georgia hospital must stand trial for firing a nurse who blew the whistle on dangerous medication practices. The trial will begin in the next few months.
Jim Garrity represents the nurse, a former RN Supervisor. The Hospital Authority of Miller County, Georgia, is represented by a law firm in the Atlanta area.
Jim’s client was starting her shift and about to take custody of a med-cart from a departing nurse. Med-carts are loaded with narcotics intended for distribution to patients. At shift changes, nurses exchange these carts and verify their contents. On this occasion, though, our client noticed something alarming. Laying on the cart, mixed in with properly-sealed drug packets, was a zip-lock sandwich baggie containing loose narcotics. The departing nurse hastily assured her they were safe to use and pressed our client to take the cart. But she could not explain how the pills wound up in the baggie, or even where they had been.
Our client halted the cart transfer immediately. She was not going to take possession of the cart with the unusual baggie, and she was certainly not going to give them to patients. Taking the cart could have jeopardized her career; administering the mysterious pills could have led to multiple tragedies for vulnerable patients. But rather than being commended for her actions, she was fired almost immediately.
As Jim told the judge at the pre-trial hearing, “This is how episodes of Forensic Files get started. People see something but don’t say something, and as a result, death or serious injury results. Most shocking is that it was the individual, not the institution, that stepped up to protect the patients.” After hearing from both sides, the judge refused the hospital’s request to dismiss the case.
Georgia’s Whistleblower Law and the Hospital’s Surprising Confession
The whistleblower law protects employees who refuse to participate in activities believed to be unsafe or illegal. That’s exactly what the nurse did here. The judge specifically said that the hospital “…concedes it does not know why the loose narcotics in the bag were not properly sealed in a blister pack or where they came from.” And in its papers filed with the Court, the hospital admitted she was fired for her refusals associated with the med-cart and the loose narcotics. That puts it squarely in the crosshairs of the law’s prohibitions.
Why would a hospital be upset at a nurse’s refusal to distribute narcotics? One reason is purely economic. Hospitals cannot bill patients or insurers for pills that aren’t used. And pills like this can be fantastically expensive.
Have You Blown the Whistle on Your Employer’s Practices? Or Want To?
Whistleblower laws can be complicated. If you’re thinking about speaking out, call us for guidance. Procedures for what to say, how to say in – in writing or verbally – and who to say it to are very specific. Doing it the wrong way can leave you without any protection. And if you’ve already blown the whistle and suffered consequences, ask us about your rights.
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