RNs Speak Out!

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GuerrillaNurse: Part Two


“Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment— that which they cannot anticipate.”―Sun Tzu, The Art of War

What happens after you decide to sue your prior employer?

All I can do is tell you about my own experience. I am not an attorney, so do not construe any statements I make as legal advice. However, I do want you to know what to expect as a plaintiff. You are a guerrilla nurse! You are, in truth, waging this battle on your own, even if you hire the best labor attorney in the country.

First, you need to decide if you need the assistance of an attorney. Although you can file a complaint with EEOC or your local labor relations board on your own, having a great labor attorney in your corner is a plus. That is the route I chose to go.

If you do retain an attorney, he or she will likely send a letter of notice to your employer.  Remember, this is only the beginning of a long and painful process. Patience as well as a steadfast, determined mindset are required, both now and for many months (or years) to come.


Before you sue your employer, you will need to file a complaint with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.)  This process takes anywhere from six to eight months. Some states, such as Florida, have their own departments that settle complaints in lieu of sending the complaint to the EEOC.

Your prior employer will file a rebuttal with the EEOC regarding the charges you made. Reading my prior employer’s rebuttal was one of the most difficult parts of the process for me. Their rebuttal was 164 pages long, and included not only mischaracterizations of my skills and abilities as an RN but also blatant lies. Expect this. It will happen. I am telling you this because I want you to be prepared. I was not. Remember — your prior employer’s rebuttal is NOT produced under oath!

The statements contained in your prior employer’s rebuttal will hurt. Remember, their statements are not about truth or truth-seeking. Their intent is to drag you, your emotions and your perception of yourself as an accomplished, intelligent and compassionate nurse through the mud in an effort to demoralize you so you will drop your suit! Cry, storm around your house, hit your pillow! Get angry! You are a fighter, a true guerrilla nurse! Do whatever it takes to clear your mind, then write your rebuttal to their rebuttal.

I received my prior employer’s rebuttal right before Thanksgiving in 2013. I had only about five days to respond to their 164-page rebuttal, although they spent at least two months preparing their rebuttal.(Expect short time frames in which to respond throughout the entire process!

After you have submitted your rebuttal, you wait. And wait. And wait some more. In my case, the department in Florida did not process my complaint within the required time frame (six months). Expect this, too. It took nearly eight months for them to reach a decision in my case.

Expect more questions from the EEOC or the department in your state that handles the EEOC complaints. Again, expect to be allowed a very short time frame in which to respond to any questions they may have. You may be required to attend a telephone conference with the EEOC representative. The EEOC representative didn’t show for my own case. Expect that, too.

No matter how much proof you have, including witness accounts, expect your EEOC complaint to be dismissed. Most are. Mine was. This is disheartening on one hand, but on the other hand, you will finally receive that all-important right-to-sue letter!


You have that letter from the EEOC, so it’s time to file suit. You will need to decide, with the help of your attorney, whether to file suit in federal or state court. Because my suit was about both discrimination and a hostile work environment, I chose to file in federal court. There are advantages and disadvantages to either choice of venues. Your attorney, if you have one, will guide you in making this decision.

You file. Then you wait. And wait. And wait some more. Twiddle your thumbs, dig in your garden, do yoga or, again, do whatever it takes to help you stay grounded and patient during this period. It’s tough.


Now the fun begins! The discovery process!
You will receive documents from your prior employer’s attorneys that ask you to answer absurd, tangential, non-relevant questions about your life. How many times have you been married? What are the names of all of your relatives who live in your state? Is your dog really named Boo? Are there snakes under your house? When was your last termite inspection?

Next comes document discovery. You will be directed to submit any and every document or tape you have in your possession that pertains in any way to your case. This is what I talked about in my previous blog entry. This is why I said it is best not to keep a list of patient names. If it’s in your head, they can try to reach it when you go to court. If it’s in writing, you have to give it to them. Period. (I have to admit it was inspiring to throw all of those pertinent emails I saved right back at them during this process. Oh, yeah….here ya’ go! Read this! Read it and weep!)

Then you wait again. It’s all a waiting game, really.


Now come the deposiions. In my case, I was the first to be deposed. My deposition lasted for about seven hours. The printed version of my deposition is 225 pages long.

One of my favorite parts of my deposition is this (paraphrased):
Their attorney:  “Have you seen your prior employer’s policy regarding harassment of employees?”
Me: “Hmmph…”
Their attorney: “What did you say? Did you just laugh?”
Me: “No, I think I grunted.”
Their attorney: “You grunted? What did your grunt mean? ”Me: “It means I grunted.”
Their attorney: “What does grunting MEAN?”

And on and on it goes, the merry-go-round of questions. Expect to be asked about your physical health, your family’s health, how many times you’ve been married, how many cats you have rescued over the years and whether or not those cats have been vaccinated.

If you have any sort of secret, anything you hold close to your chest, expect their attorney to know it and divulge it. This is, after all, just another opportunity for them to try to humiliate, demoralize and marginalize you.

In my case, I had been a patient of my prior employer many years ago. At that time, back in about 2000, I was treated for an episode of serious depression. After I recovered, I began working for that corporation as an RN. At that time, and throughout the nearly eleven years I worked at this corporation as an RN in different roles, I knew I was one of their “success stories.” I never shared this with any of my co-workers, but I will say that one of the administrators who fired me was one of the staff members who treated me back in 2000.

After lunch, during the mid-afternoon, when we were all tired, their attorney asked the question I had been dreading:  “Do you have a history of depression?”
I cannot prove it, and this is only my opinion, but I believe my prior employer divulged my private medical history to their attorneys. The only other person who knew was my own attorney, and he had made it clear my history was protected under attorney-client privilege. The only person at my deposition, other than the two attorneys, was a woman who apparently worked for my prior employer in an administrative capacity.  Expect that, too.


The bottom line is your prior employer’s attorneys are prepared to do or say whatever it takes to discredit you. Expect this. If you know you can’t deal with it, don’t sue. It’s hard, it’s painful, and it takes a tough person to survive this process intact, both emotionally and spiritually.
I left the deposition that day with a strong sense of both relief and finality. I had finally said what I had to say. It was on record now, under oath. The way other nurses and I were treated by my prior employer was a matter of public record, at long last.

If you are deposed first, expect your prior employer to fight back HARD. That is what happened to me. Expect to be told, as my attorney had to tell me, that your ex-employer will likely try to recoup court and attorney’s fees from you if they obtain dismissal of your case from the judge. It is a threat, of course. Expect it.

As I have written before, I could not afford to continue the suit. I could not afford mediation or further deposition costs, and it was likely, according to my attorney, that my ex-employer would be granted summary judgment in federal court due to a new and recent interpretation of the Florida whistleblower law. In no way could my husband and I afford to pay those fees. It was a risk we simply could not take, although we both wanted my case to proceed to jury trial.
At this point, (if you get this far), keep in mind that your prior employer’s attorneys are probably racking up a mountain of billable hours! If, like me, you can’t afford to proceed, do your level best to make sure your prior employer agrees not to pursue you for their attorneys’ fees.

Would I do it again? Yes, I would! The entire experience was cathartic for me. It helped me let go of the the most painful experience I’ve ever had during my 37 year career as a nurse. Furthermore, my statements are now public record.  For me, it was enough to know that, according to my attorney,  my prior employer used three attorneys and spent tens of thousands to defend against little, old me. The outcome was more than enough to soothe my damaged spirit. It was never about money for me, anyway —- it was all about the truth, and getting that truth out to the public.

That said, I am in the process of obtaining a copy of my deposition. At the current time, I can’t afford it, since it will cost at least  $600.00. However, when I do obtain it, I plan to make my deposition public (with patient names and identifying information redacted, of course.) That deposition is my story, my truth, told under oath. I have nothing to hide.

In my opinion, this guerrilla nurse won, even though we never made it to court.

The GuerrillaNurse: Part One

May 6, 2015 Melissa Brown

(Disclaimer: I am NOT an attorney, nor am I offering legal advice. What I write is based only on my own experience. Do NOT consider anything I have written below as legal advice!)

Merriam Webster defines a “guerrilla” as : a member of a usually small group of soldiers who do not belong to a regular army and who fight in a war as an independent unit. That’s me! And I’m here to share my guerrilla nurse tactics with you.

First, my background:

Approximately eighteen months ago, I filed a lawsuit against my prior employer for wrongful termination, age and gender discrimination, permitting a hostile workplace environment and, perhaps most important, violation of the Florida whistleblower law.

Unfortunately, I had to drop my case two weeks ago. My attorney told me my case would likely be dismissed on summary judgment due to a very recent change in the legal interpretation of Florida’s whistleblower law. (It is noteworthy that plaintiff’s attorneys in Florida are collectively fighting this new interpretation.)

Furthermore, had summary judgment been obtained by my employer’s attorneys, I may have been required to pay my prior employer’s attorneys fees, which, according to my attorney, likely numbered in tens of thousands of dollars. In addition to this, I would have been required to pay over $1000.00 for mediation as well as hundreds of dollars for deposition of my witnesses.

I simply could not continue under those financial conditions.
As an aside, one of my dreams for the future is to facilitate development of a national legal fund from which nurses can draw in order to pursue their own lawsuits without fear of financial devastation. In addition, I dream of developing a network of labor attorneys (including nurse attorneys) who are willing to assist nurses with their cases at reduced rates or even pro bono.
During the process of my own lawsuit, I learned so much! It is my intent to share what I learned with other nurses so that they can be better prepared, both financially and emotionally, for legal wrangling.


The worst has happened — you’ve been fired for trumped up reasons. First, you cry. Next, you rage. Depression soon follows. Last, you decide to take legal action. But what? How?

Let’s take a step back here. Let’s face it, most nurses know when they are on the chopping block. What can you do BEFORE the ax comes down?


If have a strong belief that your employer is planning to fire you, put your emotions aside. Summon your inner detective and start gathering evidence.
Don’t procrastinate — you may not have much time!

Send copies of all pertinent work-related emails, with the obvious exception of emails that include information that identifies patients, to your smart phone or home computer. Make hard copies if you aren’t a computer geek like me. If you are afraid to send the emails to yourself, cut and paste the contents of the email and save it on your smart phone or tablet. Evernote is a good application to use for this purpose.

Next, make hard copies of all pertinent policies and procedures. If you have been accused of something specific, find that policy and make a copy for yourself. It is far easier to make that copy now than it is to subpoena it later. Be surreptitious! A true guerrilla nurse! In other words, don’t be obvious when searching for and making those copies.

Make a list of nurses or staff members who may end up being witnesses in your case. Don’t forget to document dates, times and occurrences. If pertinent issues have been raised in staff meetings, make a list of the meeting’s attendees, the subject, and the speakers. If you can’t recall the date of a relevant staff meeting, look it up in the minutes (if they exist).

If you have had disciplinary action taken against you, go to HR and hand copy the allegations presented in the disciplinary report. Most HRs will not provide a photocopy, so you must be prepared to copy it all down by hand. Be gracious. Thank the HR person for helping you improve your nursing and communication skills. Above all, do not be rude, critical or defensive. It’s not time for that — yet.

Do NOT, under any circumstances, photocopy a patient’s record. Any and all patient records can be subpoenaed later, so keep a list of dates and times of questionable occurrences. I suggest keeping the patient’s names in your head rather than on paper, since everything you have in your personal written files can be demanded by the defendant (your prior employer) during the discovery process.

If you have a valid complaint about safety in the workplace, write a comprehensive email to your employer. Be specific. If it is a staffing, security or other safety issue, be precise. Include all the details. It is critical that you make suggestions and offer solutions regarding what your employer can do to rectify the issues you express. Either email it to yourself or make a paper copy. This step is CRITICAL if you intend to take legal action.


If you think your employer has broken a law, whether federal or state, document the specifics and submit your concerns via email, telephone or in person to the appropriate state or federal agency. Keep in mind that each agency has different time limit requirements regarding submission of concerns.

For example,the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requires submission within thirty days of the qualifying event. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requires submission within 180 days. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) requires submission within six months of the event or conduct. Whistleblower laws vary from state to state, so do your own research or consult a labor attorney.

After you are fired (and you knew you would be), there are specific actions you need to take next. I will address these actions, including easily available resources, in my next blog entry. Keep in mind that it is NOT necessary to hire an attorney immediately. You can submit your concerns to the appropriate agencies on your own, if you have not yet done so.

I repeat — I am not an attorney. However, I AM a guerrilla nurse who decided early on to fight back rather than simply quit the job I loved and “move on.” I may have lost one battle (my lawsuit), but I do not intend to lose the war. Nest time, I will discuss what nurses face AFTER they have filed a lawsuit or complaint with a regulatory agency.

Until next time,

The Guerrilla Nurse

Are nurses really threatening to kill patients?

Are nurses really threatening to kill patients?

Zack Hutchins, communications director for The Business Council of New York at bcnys.org, apparently thinks so.

Yesterday, in a response to a tweet posted by @NursesTakeDC, Hutchins wrote:

“@nursestakedc We would suggest you go back and read your own tweet. It was explicit in the threat that nurses would kill our loved ones.”

So what did #NursesTakeDC tweet that was so inflamed Zack Hutchins?

In response to The Business Council’s support of New York’s Coalition for Safe and Affordable Care, @NursesTakeDC tweeted:

 @businessNYS @GNYHA Shame on you for this. More patients will die. Your loved ones. Nurses know. http://static.politico.com/09/2c/07213cb74795888ec6ae4dc0e9d6/letter-to-legislators-on-safe-staffing-bill.pdf …”

Hutchins responded by tweeting, “ thank you for threatening our loved ones with death. Nice touch. A sensible, reasoned argument,” and this:

“Apparently threatening loved ones with death is now a proper lobbying tactic.”

And finally, there was that tweet in which Hutchins suggested nurses are threatening to kill patients.

Is this the message the Business Council of New York truly wants to send to patients and nurses all over the country?

#NursesTakeDC is a national movement of nurses who support mandated nurse-to-patient ratios. Word about The Business Council of New York’s disrespectful, fear-mongering tweets is spreading quickly on social media.

The Business Council of New York owes us a public apology.

Melissa Brown RN
Pensacola, Florida

@GuerrillaNurse on Twitter


The Key to Safe Care



by Doris Carroll, RN

(Practicing BSN for 32 years, L&D, high risk antenatal hospital based/home health, 14yrs managing NIH HIV/OB/GYN/PEDS clinical trials, and currently, 8+ years in an ambulatory academic center, charge nurse for 2 practices, Infectious Disease (HIV/OB/GYN, Adult/PEDS) and Primary Care for Adults and Children (chronic illness and disabled children/adults); past Communications Chair for the Illinois Nurses Association Executive Board University of Illinois local unit representing 1200 RNs, now current Grievance Co-Chair for said local, as well as Vice President of the INA at the state level; achieved certification in clinical research and ambulatory nursing and working on a 3rd, HIV/AIDS; a co-author for several articles, posters, and chapter credits. Working full time, single mother, with two adopted children aged 14 now, 5 cats, 2 parakeets, 1 snake and 1 gecko.)


Thousands of nurses will meet to rally for YOU on Florence Nightingale’s birthday Thursday, May 12, 2016 in Washington DC, and state capitols across the country.

Nurses advocate for YOU. We care about you. We need you to know why this is important to you.

Our goal is to unite Nurses with ONE VOICE on ONE DAY. To educate the public about our concerns over unsafe staffing in hospitals and nursing homes.

For the last 10 years research says YOUR health is IMPROVED when health care facilities have enough Nurses to take care of you.

Nurses need YOU to know what happens when hospital administrators cut nursing staff:

-you will have a higher chance of falling

-you will have a higher chance of suffering from a wound, urine, or blood infection

-you will have a higher chance of dying from a heart attack

-you will have a higher chance of dying for each additional patient your nurse must take on at one time

-you will have a higher chance of dying from medical errors either the wrong medication or wrong dose

Doctors know this. They are working to make changes. But most doctors work for hospital administrators.

Hospital administrators know this. Their answer?

-you complete a survey rating your satisfaction of your care. Because the quality of hotel service is more important than than the quality of your health care

-discipline nurses for reporting unsafe staffing with suspensions

-fire nurses for reporting unsafe staffing

-hire less qualified staff to care for you

-hire less nurses since nurses are THE largest labor force in hospitals therefore cost more to their budget

-discipline nurses for reporting unsafe equipment, unsafe policies and for advocating for YOU

-bully and intimidate nurses to keep quiet about unsafe staffing, equipment and policies

-increase nurses risk for mental stress and physical injury due to less nurses because of the risks to YOU!


-come to our rally and hear famous nurses speak out and see for yourself how much nurses CARE about YOU!

-call your legislators and demand that both Republicans and Democrats support and pass the safe staffing bills HR 1602 and S 864

-call hospital and nursing home CEOs and tell them YOU are on to them. That YOU demand they listen to You and their nurses

Do Something! Change Something!

Rally For National Nurse-To-Patient Ratios. May 12. 2016 ‪#‎SMYSOfficial‬‪#‎NursesTakeDC‬

Rally for National Nurse-to-Patient Ratios

Sponsored by:

SMYS for Change, a new, grassroots nurses organization fighting for patients and nurses across the country on many issues.

A Voice for Nurses Now, a nurses organization promoting safe nursing conditions and safe nurse to patient ratios.

National Rally for Nurse to Patient Ratios, a nurses organization improving patient safety by advocating for having a national standard for nurse to patient ratios.

And the Illinois Nurses Association the Nurses Union, representing nurses in Illinois for their right to organize and promote nurse and patient advocacy.


McHugh MD, Kelly LA, Sloane DM, et al. Contradicting fears, California’s nurse-to-patient mandate did not reduce the skill level of the nursing workforce in hospitals. Health Affairs. 2011;30(7):1299-1306.

Aiken LH, Clarke SP, Sloane DM, et al. Hospital nurse staffing and patient mortality, nurse burnout, and job dissatisfaction. JAMA. 2002;288(16):1987-93. [PubMed]

Kane RL, Shamliyan TA, Mueller C, et al. The association of registered nurse staffing levels and patient outcomes: systematic review and meta-analysis. Med Care. 2007 Dec;45(12):1195-204. [PubMed]

Needleman J, Buerhaus P, Mattke S, et al. Nurse-staffing levels and the quality of care in hospitals. N Engl J Med. 2002 May 30;346(22):1715-22. [PubMed]

Aiken LH, Sloane DM, Cimiotti JP, et al. Implications of the California nurse staffing mandate for other states. Health Serv Res. 2010;45(4):904-21. Available at: http://nurses.3cdn.net/f83005dfafc3cd0332_evm6bn5zg.pdf(link is external). [PubMed]

Hinno, S., Partanen, P., & Vehviläinen-Julkunen, K. (2011, July 1). Nursing activities, nurse staffing and adverse patient outcomes as perceived by hospital nurses. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 21(21), 1584-1593.http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2702.2011.03956.x

Kalisch, B., Tschannen, D., & Lee, K. (2012, January/March). Missed nursing care, staffing and patient falls. Journal of Nursing Care Quality, 27(1), 6-12.http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/NCQ.0b013e318225aa23

Needleman, J., Buerhaus, P., Pankratz, V. S., Leibson, C., Stevens, S., & Harris, M. (2011, March 17). Nurse staffing and inpatient hospital mortality. The New England Journal of Medicine, 364, 1037-1045.http://dx.doi.org/10.1056/NEJMsa1001025

Safe Ratios Save Lives!



by Melissa Brown RN

EDIT,  March 22, 2016:  It has come to my attention that some hospitals are telling nurses that disclosure of nurse staffing levels to patients amounts to “patient abuse.”  Some  hospital admins are expressing the concern that “patients won’t feel safe if they know how many other patients their nurse has.”

This is wrong! Again, nurses are being expected to tacitly accept the blame AND the responsibility when dangerous nurse-to-patient ratios, dictated by the oh-so-concerned hospital administrators, are allowed to continue. 

Nurses:  Speak out!  Patients and members of the public:  Please support us, for your sake and the sake of your loved ones.


Nurses need your help so we can take better care of you!

Here’s the scenario: You (or your loved one) have been hospitalized. You expect and deserve top notch care, so you want your nurse to be available when you need her or him.  But….too often your nurse isn’t available, and no doubt you are wondering why.

You wonder if your nurse is knitting a sweater for her baby, watching TV on a smart phone or kicking back in the nurses’ lounge playing poker.

No! What you are experiencing may well be unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios — in short, your nurse may have too many patients assigned to her or him that shift, which translates into you not getting the care and attention you need and deserve from you nurse.

Nurses want to be there to give you the care you need. For many, nursing is a calling, a passion. However, in the current health care climate, providing the high quality nursing care that nurses want and need to provide to their patients is sometimes impossible due to the high number of patients assigned to each individual nurse, whether it’s on the general floor, in the ICU, in the Emergency Department, on a behavioral medicine unit or elsewhere.

So what can YOU do?

The next time your nurse makes rounds, ask your nurse what the recommended nurse-to-patient ratio is on your hospital unit. Then, ask what the nurse-to-patient ratio is at that moment!

Don’t expect the nurse to answer. Expect some polite hemming and hawing. Many, if not most, hospitals in the USA threaten to fire nurses who discuss nurse-to-patient ratios (nurse workloads, “short staffing”) with their patients. This is one of  hospital industry’s best-kept secrets.

Since you don’t want to get your nurse fired, ask to speak to the nursing supervisor. If the super won’t discuss it with you, or gives you an off-the-cuff “don’t worry, you are safe!” response, ask to speak with the patient advocate (if the hospital has one.) If that doesn’t work, demand to speak to the Director of Nursing. Go up the chain to the CEO if necessary. Find out what that nurse-to-patient ratio is! Find out how many patients your nurse has! Ask if it is safe!  Demand safe nurse-to-patient ratios!

The quality and safety of your in-patient care, or the care of your loved one, may depend on the answer to this simple question. And the future of nursing lies in your hands.

Please help us be there…..for you.





The Birth of a Nurse Radical


by Melissa Brown RN

So it’s the New Year, and something is on my heart.

We all talk about radicalization. How does it happen? What causes it? How does a “normal” person become radicalized?

I’m not talking about radical terrorism here. I’m talking about the radicalization of health care professionals, especially nurses.

While interacting on a post on the Show Me Your Stethoscope Facebook page this morning, I recalled the personal incident that started my drift into “radicalization.” I remembered the incident that led to my becoming a nurse who would no longer stand for unfairness within our profession, our personal lives or the lives of our patients.

The incident, you ask? I had a mastectomy in January, 1996. Although immediate reconstruction is now the norm, my insurer would not approve it at that time. Although my physician and I continued to lobby the insurance company to approve this surgery (TRAM flap reconstruction) for nearly three months,  the answer was always “we are still considering it.”

By the end of March, 1996, I was fed up with calling the insurer every day in an effort to obtain approval. I finally decided to take the the sort of direct action touted by activists and other radical types:  A sit-in!

The next morning at 9 am, I was at the corporate office of my insurer. Politely, I asked to speak with the medical director. Naturally, I was told he was out of the building. I told the receptionist I would wait until he returned. She then told me (gee, whiz!) that he may not be in that day at all. I told her that was okay, but I would still wait.

And wait I did, as others came and went. I had brought my lunch in a paper bag, so I had a cheerful noon repast as others watched in confusion and amusement.

I waited until 5  pm. As the receptionist was closing the office, I smiled and told her I would be back at 9 am the next morning to wait yet again for the medical director to arrive.

At 8 am sharp the next morning, as I was preparing to go to the corporate office for another sit-in, I received a phone call from the insurer. My surgery had magically been approved!

Something sparked inside my heart that morning. It became clear to me that perseverance and direct action could change not only my life  but also the lives of others.

On that day in late March, 1996, I became a fighter, a “radical” nurse. Over the next 20 years, that spark became an inferno. Although I am now retired, I still fight harder than ever before on behalf of nurses and nursing.

It’s past time nurses recognize and act on their personal and collective power. We are a force that cannot be ignored any longer.

#GuerrillaNurse  #SMYSoffical  #NursesUnite  #NursesTakeDC

Rally for National Nurse/Patient Ratios!

A Voice for Nurses Now shared a new group:

Please check out the new Rally page with privacy settings! It is a CLOSED group. Members will be approved by an admin in hopes of this being a safe, professional, and private place where medical professionals can organize for an AWESOME cause. Please join us, and share with your nurse friends. Do Something. Change Something. Rally for national nurse/patient ratios on May 12, 2016!

Mandated Whistleblowers

by Sam Beardsley, RN 11/27/15

I’ve been pondering this essay for a week now. I’ve been an RN for 35 years. Have absolutely loved the profession, but I also love challenges… even though I’ve been tested, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I’ve watched, and continue to watch the profession itself and those outside of the profession, both colleagues and clients, as they try to define what a “good RN” is. I’ve never heard a perfect answer. It seems to be like the story of the blind men as they define an elephant.

Personally, I think of Chief Justice Stuart Potter, who in the early ‘60’s, during the Supreme Court’s efforts to define pornography, frustratingly uttered the now famous line “I shall not today attempt further to define (pornography), and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.” All of us who have been in nursing, even for a short time, appreciate this sentiment. We know it when we see it!

On to my point. One of the attributes to admire in a good nurse is that of being able to “think outside the box,” i.e. challenging ‘”tradition” or “common knowledge.” I thought of this as I kept passing over the word “whistleblower.” The word is such a trigger-word. In this culture it certainly has a negative connotation, especially in the corporate arena.

Pondering the word and my profession I couldn’t get away from the idea that one of the larger aspects of the normal part of my job is that of whistleblower. I’m supposed to always be watching out for variances in the way care is being delivered to my patient(s). My state actually mandates my being a whistleblower if I find a non-patient child or an elderly person being mistreated. I can lose my license and be held criminally liable if I’m not a whistleblower!

We’re good at many areas of our practice because we had good role models and mentors showing us how to do it and supporting our actions. We need equally good leaders in our professional organizations supporting us when we try to expose a practice that’s not in the best interest of our patients or the profession.

It’s a serious blow to the profession of nursing when the exposure has to come from the popular press because our members have found only silent and scared “leaders.” I hope that when any of us is called a whistleblower we can smile and say thank you!