Brian Short, founder of allnurses.com, aka allnurses®, along with his wife and 3 teenage children, died in a tragic murder-suicide in 2015 due to a quick onset and fast-spreading serious mental illness.
I met Brian once during his lifetime, but I actually got to know him after his death.
This is my story, from my point of reference. You will read my opinion, based on my understanding, of what is, and what could have been… this is my personal point of view.
What Would I Find?
During the first few months as the new business operations manager at allnurses®, I expected to find skeletons in every closet. I expected to see signs of financial trouble and cover-up. I expected to learn about hidden debt problems. I expected to uncover and discover financial areas of small business distress. I expected to hear stories of despair, stories of shame and secrets to keep the business afloat. Given the unspeakable nature of Brian’s death, local and national news stories, reports of a defamation lawsuit, and his uncharacteristic, horrendous actions just prior to his death, I expected to be walking into an unpredictable, messy, challenging situation.
In fact, the financial business story that was slowly unfolding was contrary to what I initially expected. There was nothing out of the ordinary here. What I was looking at were the records of what seemed to be a healthy, debt-free, and rather remarkable small business. A business with a substantial operational checking account balance. A business that had built a solid team of dedicated employees that were traumatized by what had just happened to their leader and his family. A business that was thoughtfully managed with passion and a giving-back attitude.
allnurses® was not only consistently operating profitably from month to month, I found a recently established non-profit under the name “allnurses® Foundation”, which was in the process of setting up a Board of Directors. The foundation was well on its way to becoming a fully operational do-good Charity. OK I’m thinking, this makes sense, the business checking account was holding an unusually high balance, a reserve, which I now figured was earmarked for this newly formed do-good Charity. I learned the intention was to fund the do-good Charity with a portion of allnurses® operational profits and provide benefits to the underprivileged.
It was becoming clear to me that the founder of this company was a visionary that deeply cared about giving back to his community. Brian Short was hoping to do good things with his business by putting profits into a charity that would help others.
Perhaps Brian set up the do-good Charity because he knew the challenge of growing up without privilege. He once told a friend (Randy Cassingham’s in “Two Good Friends”) “We were very poor growing up, I lived in the ghetto on the north side of Milwaukee. This humble beginning was a great source of passion to want more and do something better with my life.” His best friend’s mom was a nurse, and that’s what led him to the profession.
Along with giving back to his community, Brian developed a passion early for using the internet to help the nursing profession.
Brian became a critical care nurse to help people, but during that process he also started allnurses® because he wanted to help his fellow students. Brian was a nursing student in the 1990’s when he started a helpful-link-page on the internet. He couldn’t find enough information about the nursing profession, so he set up the page so his fellow students would have a quick resource. allnurses® grew from a page of helpful links to a discussion forum to allow nursing students and nurses to ask questions of their peers, seek career advice and share first hand experiences.
From early on, it was clear to Brian, that in order to maintain a safe, secure and privacy-compliant discussion platform, it was important to protect each users’ anonymity. From the beginning of allnurses®, the core values were in place to make the site a welcome discussion area where all users could state their opinions and safely carry on conversations.
As I got to know the team at allnurses®, I could see that Brian treated his employees very well. He had built a dedicated and passionate staff under his leadership. These loyal employees were now willingly working alongside me, as the newcomer, and were ready to buckle down and work hard through this transition to meet challenges head-on for the sake of his legacy.
I came to allnurses® to help manage operations after Brian’s untimely death. I was confident that my passion and past experience counseling small business owners through difficult situations as the Director of our local SBA Women’s Business Center would be valuable for allnurses®. Assisting this business would be rewarding. After spending 30 years successfully growing my own family business, and turning operations over to the 2nd generation of owners/managers, the timing was right. I was up for the challenge.
There was another basic underlying draw for me to this job. It was very clear to me that Brian died at the hands of a severe mental illness. This hit a raw nerve in me.
In my 2nd year of college, my uncle, only 3 years my senior, committed suicide. He was my mom’s youngest brother, a neighbor, my childhood best friend, he was like my big brother. I was devastated. I couldn’t stop thinking about what I could have done to prevent his death. Why would he do this to our family? My poor Grandma. My poor Mother. I became angry at myself. What did I miss? What is wrong with me that he couldn’t talk to me about his feelings? I felt so helpless. Other than consoling words, loving hugs, and keeping in touch while I was back in college, I felt like there was so little I could do to help.
Joining the team at allnurses® would not only allow me to help the business through a difficult situation, but it would also be humbling, and perhaps healing, to be a part of a much greater cause. Brian’s goal for allnurses® was to fund a do-good Charity - perhaps nursing scholarships for the underprivileged. After Brian's death, the family would likely prefer to channel their grief toward another do-good cause - mental health awareness and suicide prevention. That was a comforting thought and might help me close the wound from my uncle's suicide many years before.
But first we had a big hurdle to get over. A sprawling 17-count-civil lawsuit. (Docket Number: 2:15-cv-03202)
My initial opinion after reading the lawsuit was that the allegations were a mixture of false claims and baseless exaggerated presumptions. This was clearly a meritless case that should quickly be dismissed and hopefully put behind us. Believe it or not, our legal system allows any party to file a civil lawsuit against another party if they feel wronged. The defending party then has no choice except to settle with the suing party or hire an attorney to fight every charge and let the courts decide the outcome.
Early on, before I joined the team, allnurses® attempted to settle the lawsuit, but they would not agree. Their lawsuit was looking for monetary damages and asking for the case to be brought before a jury. Brian knew his site users had a right to their opinion and allnurses® was innocent of any wrongdoing, but at this point, he realized this was going to drag on and on. Could this depressing realization been the trigger to his declining mental health?
As the months turned into years, my original hope for a quick resolution to the crazy lawsuit slowly faded. The suing party amended the charges, then a year later amended them again. In the end they amended the charges 3 times. THREE TIMES. The legal costs were piling up faster and faster and the charity reserves set aside for the do-good Charity …. was eventually spent.
Finally, 3 years into the battle, the case was dismissed ---- but wait ----- the suing party was not done yet. They decided to appeal. allnurses® had no choice, now we had to pay to go through an appeals process, and this took another 2 years.
Did We Win?
On August 19, 2020, we heard from the appeals court and the case was dismissed, again. I guess we won. We were victors. Or victims? The costs and pain cut deep.
This lawsuit has been proven to have absolutely no merit. allnurses® and its members did nothing wrong. Hailed the victors, yet felt like victims. Think about the family, fans, classmates, neighbors, friends, siblings, parents, employees who lost dearly. They are the victims. They lost their loved ones, brother, sister, cousin, son, respected founder and family to a serious mental illness that spiraled downward at the onset of the lawsuit. The business drained its charity reserve, originally designated for good causes by the founder, to defend this massive exaggerated meritless lawsuit to a tune of over a half a million dollars.
I don't think the suing party set out to cause allnurses® all this emotional pain. But I did originally underestimate the ruthlessness of their greed and how far they would reach to get what they want. Looking at it now, it seems they just saw this as an opportunity to make money. Perhaps they felt the more they piled into the allegations, the more likely allnurses® would give in and offer a monetary settlement. We didn’t give in. We fought until we won. The key is WE won - which means Brian won. They did not win.
Should Defending Party Pay For Case Dismissed?
We have big problems in our judicial system when a civil case can be brought against a company, found to be meritless by the courts and dismissed, appealed and found again to be meritless and dismissed again in a higher court, and the suing party does not become automatically responsible for the monetary costs incurred by the completely innocent defending party.
Things need to change. In every state, including Minnesota, a clear message needs to be sent. Hey if you are suing out of greed or to get a hopeful insurance settlement, you better have a valid claim, or you will be required to reimburse the defending party for ALL costs associated when your case is found to be meritless and dismissed.
As I have stated, this didn’t happen here and the fallout and pain to allnurses® ... enormous. But what was actually lost was even more.
What Could Have Been
I frequently reflect on what charitable work and benefits that could have been funded over the last 5 years with the charity reserves that Brian had set aside. All the underprivileged nursing students that could have but did not receive scholarships. Perhaps we could have used the funds to support men’s mental health awareness causes. A cause that is close to the hearts of all employees, fans, siblings and family of the allnurses® team. Maybe we could have prevented two or three other families from having to go through this devastating pain.
Overcoming Adversity Leads To Strength
Greed’s ugly head might have put Brian’s charitable intentions on hold while allnurses® fought it off, but now we are ready to wash our hands, move on and over this hurdle. As a team, allnurses® has renewed energy to carry on Brian’s wishes. Our mission is to empower, unite and advance our members by providing a secure and safe online community where nurses, educators, students and professionals could voice opinions freely and anonymously. Now we are able to offer an even stronger nursing career and support environment for the nursing community. We are proud that our members have trusted us since 1997 and represent more than 60 professional nursing specialties from around the globe. Thanks for keeping the momentum going, and I'm glad to be a part of the journey. Welcome to Brian's Legacy.
Grow and succeed with us.
Please note: In order to properly perform my duties, I had access to every private and business email, record, password, file ... everything. There was absolutely nothing of indiscretion to be found, even after 5 years. It is important to me that readers understand Brian’s character as I have came to understand him.
Links and Information regarding suicide prevention:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Crisis Text Line
Veterans Crisis Line
Suicide Prevention Resource Center