Employment Law: Court Limits Risk Manager’s/Whistleblower’s Legal Remedies

October 1, 2012 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance

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A U.S. district court in Massachusetts held that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) and the commonwealth's constitution and whistleblower and workers' compensation laws bar certain claims asserted by a risk manager against individual defendants. The risk manager had sued members of a hospital board and her supervisor for retaliatory termination for reporting an EMTALA violation and for performing other risk management functions.

The plaintiff, a nurse, had been employed by the hospital for 38 years and worked in the hospital's clinical reliability department performing risk management duties for which she had received an exemplary performance evaluation. She alleged retaliatory dismissal for reporting an EMTALA violation that came to her attention when a risk manager at a receiving hospital telephoned her to inform her about a potential violation involving the transfer of a patient in labor with twins. After investigating the event, the plaintiff believed that a violation occurred. Hospital counsel recommended self-reporting to CMS before the receiving hospital reported the violation. Her report resulted in an investigation by the state's department of health acting on behalf of CMS. It found deficiencies in training, policies, protocols, procedures, signage, documentation, and bylaws. Around the same time, the plaintiff received a report of an unexpected patient death purportedly caused by administration of contrast dye. She conducted a root-cause analysis,...

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