NY Nurses succeeded in obtaining a state law that will give them whistleblower protection. Their bill was signed into law by the Gov yesterday:
(For Immediate Release
New York Nurses Hail Signing of Healthcare Whistleblower Protection Bill
New York, NY, 4/2/02; 1200 - The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) today applauded the signing of legislation to expand legal protections for healthcare "whistleblowers."
At a signing ceremony in New York City, NYSNA President Robert Piemonte, RN, thanked Gov. George Pataki and state legislators for taking action on this important issue.
"Nurses who fight to protect their patients should not have to fight to protect their jobs," he said. "Nurses now have added assurance that the law will be behind them when they report unsafe staffing levels, medical errors, and other situations that are detrimental to patient care."
"Whistleblower protection is the foundation for NYSNA's continuing efforts to ensure patient safety and better working conditions for nurses," said Piemonte. "We are working to end employer abuse of mandatory overtime and to establish safe staffing levels in healthcare facilities across the state. But any new patient safety laws can work only if nurses' jobs are protected when they report violations."
Key features of the bill:
Healthcare employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who:
* Disclose or threaten to disclose to supervisors or public agencies activities that they reasonably believe constitute improper quality of patient care.
* Object to, or refuse to participate in such activities.
Improper quality of patient care' is defined as any practice, procedure, action or failure to act which violates any law, rule, regulation, or declaratory ruling that may present a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety or a significant threat to the health of a specific patient.
An employee must first report the problem to a supervisor, unless he or she reasonably believes there is an imminent threat to patients and that reporting to a supervisor would not result in corrective action.
If employees experience retaliation for these activities, they may seek relief in civil court.
If the employer is found guilty, in addition to providing restitution to the employee, the court may assess a fine, which will be placed in a special state fund dedicated to improving the quality of patient care. The fine should be a deterrent for employers who contemplate retaliatory actions against employees.
The employee cannot be required to pay the employer's attorney and court costs, even if the employee's suit is unsuccessful.
This legislation represents several important changes in traditional whistleblower laws. The law formerly required knowledge of actual harm to the public at large. For healthcare workers, this is now expanded to include the potential for harm or harm to an individual patient.
Whistleblower protection laws often do not allow wronged employees to go to court unless they can prove their employers were engaged in illegal activities. Protection is now provided for healthcare employees who have reasonable belief that laws or regulations have been violated.
NYSNA is the professional association for registered nurses in New York and has more than 33,000 members statewide. NYSNA and NYSNA nurses wrote this bill and then worked with assembly members and state senators to see it into law.
Contact: Nancy Webber, NYSNA, 518.782.9400, ext. 223