The heroism of health care workers has been in the news quite a bit lately due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These news reports have placed a spotlight on the doctors, nurses, aides, and health care support staff who are risking their health on the front lines of the war against the virus, even in the face of medical and personal protective equipment shortages.
Although the world is now witnessing on the nightly news the heroic efforts of health care workers to keep us safe during the pandemic, we should keep in mind that this is nothing new for the dedicated men and women who staff our hospitals and clinics.
The fact is that healthcare workers are always looking out for the health, safety, and well-being of their patients, even in normal times. Sometimes this may include reporting violations of laws, rules, or standards of care that endanger patients or the public. Other times, it may take the form of simply advocating for the safety of patients regarding the care or conditions provided by a health care facility.
Health care workers take these actions knowing that they may be risking retaliation from their employer, including the termination of their employment.
However, West Virginia law provides protections to health care workers who report wrongdoing or advocate for patient safety.
Specifically, the West Virginia Patient Safety Act (“WVPSA”) makes it unlawful for anyone to retaliate or discriminate against a health care worker because the worker (1) made a good faith report, or is about to report, an instance of “wrongdoing” or (2) advocated for a patient “with respect to the care, services or conditions of a health care entity.”
Under the WVPSA, health care workers who believe that they have been retaliated or discriminated against for engaging in these protected activities can file a lawsuit against the employer, health care entity, or others who engaged in the retaliatory or discriminatory conduct.
If the health care worker prevails, he or she may recover lost wages, benefits, attorney's fees, and other damages that result from the discrimination or retaliation.
Accordingly, It is very important that health care workers who report wrongdoing or otherwise advocate on behalf of their patients document all reports or concerns in writing. The best practice would be to bring these issues to the attention of the employer, health care entity, or appropriate authorities by email or some other form of written correspondence that can be preserved for future reference to resolve any disputes about whether the health care worker engaged in activities protected by the WVPSA.
The bottom line is that health care workers should never be punished for keeping us safe. If you are a health care worker and believe that you have been retaliated or discriminated against for standing up for your patients, you should immediately contact an experienced employment lawyer to discuss your options.