ITHACA, N.Y. — Three witnesses have testified so far in a National Labor Relations Board hearing in Ithaca this week. The board is investigating claims that Cayuga Medical Center fired two nurses for their involvement in the union.
The National Labor Relations Board is holding a hearing in Ithaca this week, and likely beyond, to investigate claims that two nurses in the Intensive Care Unit were dismissed due to their union involvement.
Less than a year ago, Cayuga Medical Center was investigated by the NLRB, which found that the hospital did violate federal labor laws by interfering with unionizing efforts. The judge presiding over that case, David Goldman, also said nurse Anne Marshall was unlawfully suspended and demoted.
In the last case, Noto said Cayuga Medical Center was repeatedly found to harbor “anti-union animus.”
However, in the current case, Cayuga Medical Center argues that the two nurses — Anne Marshall and Lauren Lamb — were suspended and dismissed after not following protocol administering a blood transfusion Sept. 11, 2016. The hospital says it looked into the matter after the patient spoke up.
Raymond Pascucci, representing Cayuga Medical Center, said the patient had had a number of blood transfusions before and recognized when protocol was not followed.
In a written complaint, the patient said when they had transfusions before, two nurses would come in, scan the patient’s name band, ask their name and birth date and then read their name and number off their wrist and compare it to the paperwork. Next the nurses would read the numbers on the blood bag and compare it to the paperwork numbers. If everything matched, then the nurses would start the blood, the patient said.
However the patient said “the nurse” came in the room and hung the blood. When the patient asked “What about the protocol?” they said the nurse told them “‘Oh, we did that at the desk.’ –and left the room,” according to the patient’s statement.
“Willfully and intentionally violating critical patient safety standards is intolerable in a hospital setting and is grounds for immediate discharge at Cayuga Medical Center without regard to an employee’s past record,” Pascucci said during opening statements Monday. He added that falsifying medical records was also grounds for immediate dismissal. The hospital says the nurses initialed paperwork under a section that said it was completed at the patient’s bedside, despite having signed it at the nurses’ station.
The nurses do not deny that they broke protocol, but claim what they did was common practice in the Intensive Care Unit. Instead of checking the blood was correct at both the nurses’ station and at the patient’s bedside, as is hospital policy, the nurses only checked it at the nurses’ station and verified it was going to the right patient.
“The evidence will show that there was no medical error made in this case, simply a deviation from written policy. The required checks were performed by two nurses, except the checks took place right outside rather than inside the patient’s room,” Jessica Noto, field attorney for the NLRB, said in opening statements Monday.
So far, three witnesses have testified during the hearing. Two of the witnesses have been nurses in the Intensive Care Unit who have said it is common for nurses to check the blood at the nurses’ station and sign the paperwork there.
Nurse Christine Monacelli said when there is a blood transfusion, two nurses verify the blood is going to the right patient by checking their name, date of birth, account number, the donor information, consent form, expiration and other information.
After the two nurses check that everything is right at the station, the primary nurse will go hang the blood in the patient’s room, Monacelli said.
Monacelli, who has worked at the hospital for 16 years, said that has been the practice “for as long as I can remember.” She said the reason is because the nurses have to take care of every patient’s safety. Monacelli testified that they are “frequently understaffed” and there are often not enough nurses on the floor and not enough people to watch monitors and listen for alarms.
The hearing will continue at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday at the Tompkins County Courthouse, 320 N. Tioga St., Ithaca.