After witnessing a co-worker verbally abuse of a handicapped resident at Montrose Health Care Center in Montrose, IA, Lora Washburn, did the correct thing and reported the incident to the facility’s administrator. Or did she? Not satisfied with the nursing home administrator’s failure to respond to the situation, Washburn filed a complaint with the state documenting the abuse. Days after the complaint was made to state authorities, Washburn was accused of trying to intimidate co-workers and was fired from her position.
In another incident involving an Iowa nursing home employee, Janice Rardin, the Director of Nursing at the Evangelical Free Church Home, was terminated from her job after filing two complaints of suspected abuse with state authorities. The alleged abuser was the facilities administrator. Rardin allegedly overhead the administrator telling an attorney for the facility that he intended on firing her for making the report. The attorney alleged told the administrator to hold off on Rardin’s termination dispel any talk of retaliation.
Iowa, like 44 other states, requires nursing home employees to report suspected abuse of residents to authorities. If nursing home employees fail to report the abuse they face potential licensing sanctions and fines. Despite documented cases of known abuse by nursing home workers, no nursing home employees in Iowa have been prosecuted for failing to report abusive situations in the past ten years.
In addition to losing their livelihood, terminated whistlerblowers also face the reality that nursing homes rarely are prosecuted for terminating a mandatory reporter. If a facility is prosecuted, the facility will likely only be prosecuted for a simple misdemeanor.
John Judisch, a former Polk County prosecutor who now works for the state inspections department, said he does not recall ever getting complaints from whistle-blowing caregivers who were fired. "I’m not naive enough to think that sort of thing has never happened," he said. "But if they don’t come forward, we’re not going to hear about it."
Clearly, until stronger laws are on the books to protect nursing home employees who report instances of physical and psychological abuse, few employees can afford to risk the potential fallout from retaliation from administrators. In reality the biggest losers in this situation are the residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities around the country who are at risk for being trapped in abusive situations with little chance of assistance.
Read more about this incident involving whistle-blowing in a nursing home setting here.