Editorial : EMPLOYER'S DISADVANTAGE

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    Editorial

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    11/18/01

    Employers’ disadvantage
    Courts have become so protective of employees in disputes with employers that it’s almost impossible these days for an employer to find out whether a prospective employee is a bad apple.

    That appears to be one of the key contributing factors putting CVPH Medical Center into a predicament over a nurse gone wrong with drugs. The nurse was fired for not only stealing Demerol but taking it, herself, while on duty, which was her eventual undoing.

    According to the hospital, she was seen intoxicated and confronted over it. The scheme might have worked had she taken the drug at home instead of on duty.

    What’s uncertain is how she tried to pull off the theft. Having access to the pain-killing drug, which would satisfy her own habit, did she take some Demerol from each of four dosages at her disposal and place part of each dosage into a container she could inject into herself later on, replacing that amount with a saline solution? The hospital says there is no indication that she injected herself first and then administered the remainder to the patients. That would have meant the same needle would have been used on herself and any of the patients.

    Lab tests showed she wasn’t a carrier of HIV or hepatitis B or C, which should relieve anxieties for any of the four patients under her care.

    What doesn’t relieve anxieties, however, is that the labor environment today nearly prohibits an employer — even one in as sensitive a field as medical care — from finding out whether a nurse has a tainted background.

    In this case, CVPH didn’t do all the checking it could have done. According to spokesman Michael Hildebran, it checked with all knowledgeable parties, save for one key one — it failed to call her previous employer, even though it had intended to and considers it standard operating procedure. That was a big mistake. Someone slipped up.

    However, after this incident, the hospital’s investigatory contractor made that call just to see whether they’d have learned of the nurse’s drug-abusing past, and the previous employer never mentioned it. CVPH, itself, acknowledged that, under the same circumstances, it would give only routine information to a call for a reference.

    Most employers these days — including the Press-Republican — subscribe to that kind of careful treatment of such inquiries. The fear, of course, is that prospective employees who are refused a job because of a bad recommendation will sue the former employer and the courts will side with the thwarted applicant.

    The nurse lost her license in Vermont, but she immediately applied for work at CVPH and beat the red tape from state to state. Her past hadn’t caught up with her by the time she was hired.

    Employees in days gone by were victims of an unfair system that gave them too few protections against unsavory employers. Now, the system has swung too far the other way. Now, it is the employers — and, in cases such as this, the public — that are left with little protection.


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