Lawsuit: Hackley Hospital Nurse Fired for Speaking About Lack of PPE

The registered nurse claims Hackley Hospital administrators made them throw out N95 masks donated amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Published: May 11, 2020

MUSKEGON, Mich. — A registered nurse has filed a lawsuit against his former employer alleging he was fired for publicly speaking about concerns regarding the safety of frontline healthcare workers and patients at Hackley Hospital amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the support of the Michigan Nurses Association (MNA), Justin Howe filed the lawsuit on May 1, claiming his termination was a violation of the Michigan Whistleblower Protection Act and the Michigan Public Health Code, reports Shoreline Media.

“I am proud to have been an advocate and have no regrets,” Howe said. “Our patients cannot be kept safe if nurses are silenced.”

Howe, who previously served as the president of the local affiliate of the MNA, was allegedly terminated on April 3 after speaking out about personal protective equipment (PPE) for nurses and additional issues regarding the hospital’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Howe claims the hospital did not provide them with masks and nurses who were wearing donated N95 masks were told by hospital administrators to throw them away, according to WZZM. Justin Grill, Chief Medical Officer for Mercy Health Muskegon, said nurses “absolutely” have access to PPE when they need it.

“I followed my conscience by advocating publicly for nurses and patients, and I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Howe said. “Losing my job is devastating, but the consequences of not speaking out would be even worse. Lives are on the line.”

The hospital said Howe was terminated for violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) by improperly looking at the medical files of multiple patients.

Four days after Howe was terminated, another Hackley nurse was fired for allegedly violating HIPAA. His termination came about 72 hours after the MNA filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging Howe’s termination was in retaliation. According to Shoreline Media, the hospital has not provided the required documentation to support claims that the two nurses were fired as a result of a HIPAA violation.

“This is insulting to RNs. We are in the middle of a global pandemic without proper PPE. Instead of working collaboratively with us, it seems Trinity executives are investing their energy into trying to justify their unacceptable behavior and frighten nurses into silence,” said Jen Parks, a Hackley nurse and acting president of the local affiliate of the MNA. “We have to be able to speak out to protect our patients. We will do whatever it takes to get justice.”

Jamie Brown, president of the MNA, said other hospital staff throughout the country are also being fired for raising safety concerns.

“It’s happening across the U.S.,” Brown said. “All we are doing is trying to protect ourselves so we can take care of our patients and our community without getting sick.”

Typically, an allegation like this would be brought before a neutral third-party arbitrator who would make a ruling. However, due to the pandemic, arbitrations have been delayed.

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