Bill Would Extend Whistle-Blower Protection to Hospital Staffers

Oregon’s hospital association says it won’t oppose though bill isn’t needed

March 24, 2011 -- Besides nurses, few workers at Oregon hospitals enjoy specific whistle-blower protection under state law.

Just ask Edward Merrill, a former laboratory technician at Salem Hospital who said he lost his job because he reported improper lab practices to regulatory investigators.
 
I was “targeted by and subjected to retaliation by lab inspection personnel … who intentionally misrepresented my words and actions, and forced me to seek other employment,” Merrill told the Senate Committee on Health Care, Human Services and Rural Health Policy.
 
Salem Hospital did not respond to The Lund Report’s request for comment by press time.
 
The committee, chaired by Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham), a registered nurse, heard testimony last week on Senate Bill 237, which would extend whistle-blower protections to hospital staffers, such as physician assistants and laboratory technicians.
 
Nurses who speak out against unethical practices at Oregon hospitals already enjoy protection under a 2001 state law. In 2009, the Legislature passed a bill that made discrimination against whistleblowers illegal. This latest bill would extend that protection to the rest of the hospital.
 
Whistleblower abuse goes far beyond any one institution, Merrill said.
 
“In every hospital lab in which I’ve worked, I’ve been subject to intimidation and retaliation” for reporting unsatisfactory practices to regulators, Merrill said.
 
“Currently, hospital staffers have no power, recourse, nor legal remedy to speak truthfully and frankly while being interviewed by regulatory investigator,” Merrill stated. “The most effective thing the Legislature could do would be to provide a legal remedy to hospital personnel and healthcare workers against regulatory investigators.”
 
 
The Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems lobbyist, Andrea Easton, said at the March 16 hearing that the association “will not get in the way of this bill, but … we think it’s already lined out in rules and statute that hospitals can’t go after their employees.” 
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Jeff Anderson of UFCW Local 555 also testified in support of the bill. They represent over 1,600 non-nursing health care workers in hospitals throughout Oregon.