The Right to Quit an Abusive Employer is Under Attack

I say to my colleagues, nurses and nurses aids, that health care is something you have to be suited for. You can screw up at the supermarket, or at the factory, but if you screw up really bad in health care you don’t get fired. You get arrested.

Bad nurses are dangerous, and they should be fired if they can’t correct their problems. Abuse, neglect, or any other criminal offense should be prosecuted. The least powerful position in health care is lying in a bed looking up. Patients need to be protected.

But some of the worst patient abuse happens far from the bedside. It happens in corporate offices and secret meetings. The law is not vigilant in the prosecution of corporations and individuals who cause widespread harm by greed and mismanagement. It took ages for the blame at the Hillside Nursing Home to find its way up to the owners, Antonio Giordano and John J. Montecalvo who were skimming and defrauding. Almost a million dollars, but how much more was taken legally? Cutting staff, cutting supplies, stretching care so thin that 87 year old Germaine Morsilli developed bedsores. She went untreated so long that even a transfer to another nursing home where she was given decent care couldn’t save her life.

There are national nursing home chains that make huge profits by cutting cost, and staffing is one of the biggest costs. Cut staff, cut quality, Is it a crime when you sit in an office and shuffle papers and the people who suffer are far away? Easier to blame the nurses.

So, two recent stories show health care workers as pawns in a global market. First, from the New York Times

Rich countries are poaching so many African health workers that the practice should be viewed as a crime, a team of international disease experts say in the British medical journal The Lancet. More than 13,000 doctors trained in sub-Saharan Africa are now practicing in Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia, leaving behind colleagues with impossible caseloads.

A crime. Strong words from The Lancet.

Second story from the L.A. Times, which still has a few reporters left…

For months, the nurses complained that they were subject to demeaning and unfair working conditions – not what they were promised when they came to America from the Philippines in search of a better life. So they abruptly quit.

But in doing so, they put more than their careers at risk: Prosecutors hit them with criminal charges for allegedly jeopardizing the lives of terminally ill children they were in charge of watching.

The 10 nurses and the attorney who advised them were charged with conspiracy and child endangerment in what defense lawyers say is an unprecedented use of criminal law in a labor dispute. If convicted of the misdemeanor offenses, they face up to a year in jail on each of 13 counts, and could lose their nursing licenses and be deported.

The case has unfolded against the backdrop of a chronic nursing shortage in the United States. All of the defendants were from the Philippines, which exported 120,000 nurses last year.

Note the word, ‘unprecedented’. This is a novel approach to managing those human resources. Or maybe we’re taking a page from American history, pre-Civil War.

Democratic Underground, links to a news broadcast that covers some important facts. Most important, none of the patients were harmed by the nurse’s action. Clearly, the facility was able to get other nurses to cover the immediate need. The home served severely disabled children, some on ventilators. The staffing ratio was unconscionable. The home had one or two nurses each shift. How they kept those children alive I don’t know, but all of them were severely stressed and unhappy. For months they tried working through the system, having to argue daily with the supervisors about the dangerous workload, but only came to fear that giving notice would result in reprisals. They actually felt that in two weeks their employer would find a way to take their licence. Finally, on the advice of a lawyer, they all resigned. The last nurse on stayed four extra hours so the children would have some care. That is more than enough time for the manager to call a temp agency and hire some temp nurses. It’s expensive, but I assume they did that since there was really no other choice.

The news video includes an anguished mother wondering who will take care of her daughter. For a parent in that situation the safety net is very thin.

The most interesting part of the DU post is the comments. One reader asked if nurses take some kind of oath. Actually we do. And we’re held to a high code of ethics. And we can get sued, or lose our licence as well. But we don’t lose all our rights as workers when we choose this work. Forced overtime, threats, danger to nurses and patients from understaffing — these are not acceptable. Some nurses posted comments about unsafe situations they refused, or jobs they had to quit. If you want to know what’s really happening with health care, you’ll want to read them.

Some say that immigrants do the jobs Americans won’t do. That’s nonsense. Americans will do any kind of work. But we don’t have to suffer being underpaid and overworked if we can quit and find another job. Getting prosecuted for quitting a job is a new development. This seems like a test of the power of an employer to use the law to punish and intimidate a worker who simply wants to quit. If you work for a living, you should watch this case. Guest workers today, who next?

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4 responses

  1. It’s important to note that these nurses were found to not have caused any real danger to the patients when the resigned from their positions. Tides need to change. Patients before profits!

  2. Nurses on Trial for Quitting Job…

    The American dream turned into a nightmare for ten nurses from the Philippines. They are facing criminal charges and loss of licence for quitting a job they found intolerable. No patients were harmed by their action, but Long Island wants to make an ex…

  3. If they couldn’t read the contract they signed, how did they understand how to give patient care? I know first hand of the abused nurse, cna and immigrant nurses telling the charge nurse what they will do and what they will not do. After all, these poor people are a “special class” of immigrants being abused, and don’t think they don’t take advantage of it.

    As far as the nurses claiming they caused no harm, what of the potential and the attitude? In legal fields, SIGNING a contract, means just that. Do we now have ranges of penalty for signing contracts now?

    These egregious practices of hiring immigrants should stop. Stop undermining the American nurse. How many jobs do american nurses hold or even hold any at all because of the poor working conditions? Immigrants nearly hold more than 1 job, the average being 2-3.

    Maybe the practice of not hiring illegals under promises and threats would strengthen the return of nurses who say” there is no nursing shortage, there is a shortage of American nurses unwilling to take abuse for corporate money and care nothing about patient care.

  4. the nurses were here legally on a work visa. they had not surrendered their right to quit a bad job, that would make them indentured. we don’t have indentured workers since the civil war. they consulted a lawyer before taking action to be sure they were within the law. the law is being used in an ‘unprecedented’ way.
    most of the nurse’s aids i supervise are immigrants. they work for years toward their citizenship, some have attained it. immigrants have as much right as anyone else to apply for a job and be hired, or not, based on their qualifications.
    i wouldn’t call the job they do ‘special’. it’s very hard work at low pay for the trust and responsiblity they carry. anyone who shows good skills and does the job well is welcome with us. if they are not a good worker they don’t stay.
    if you look at the beginning of the post i wrote you will see that the west is ‘poaching’ health care workers from all over the world. the only real way to fix the nursing shortage is to get away from using sick people as a source of profit, and to stop understaffing nursing homes and hospitals.

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