ITHACA, N.Y. — The National Labor Relations Board is hearing a case this week regarding two nurses who were terminated at Cayuga Medical Center.
The union 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, which brought the charges, alleges the two nurses were fired due to their union activity. However, Cayuga Medical Center claims it fired the nurses after a patient complained they did not follow protocol when giving a blood transfusion.
John Turner, vice president for public relations at Cayuga Medical Center, said in a statement that the two nurses did not verify the identification of the patient at the bedside and check the patient’s armband.
“This complaint was taken very seriously and we conducted a thorough investigation. From this investigation, we determined that the two ICCU nurses who administered the blood transfusion willfully and recklessly disregarded the well-established safety procedures and then falsely documented in the patient record that the procedures were followed.”
The patient was not harmed, Turner said.
A hearing began Monday afternoon in the Tompkins County Courthouse with opening statements by NLRB field attorney Jessica Noto and Raymond Pascucci, who is representing the hospital.
Noto alleges that Cayuga Medical Center violated the National Labor Relations Act when it suspended and terminated Anne Marshall and Lauren Lamb, nurses in the Intensive Care Unit, for their union activities.
Mimi Satter, a legal representative for 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, which has brought the charges against Cayuga Medical Center, said Marshall was the “face” of the union activity at the hospital. Satter said Cayuga Medical Center was “more than anxious” to rid itself of its most vocal union advocate.
The NLRB recently found that Cayuga Medical Center violated federal labor law by retaliating against nurses involved in forming a union. The decision, released in late October, stated that Marshall received unlawful suspension, disciplinary warning, demotion and adverse performance evaluation.
Cayuga Medical Center disagrees with the decision and has filed an appeal.
Pascucci told Judge Kimberly Sorg-Graves, who is presiding over the case, that “Frankly, your honor, the last thing that Cayuga Medical Center wanted was to be in front of a serious patient complaint involving Ms. Marshall because CMC fully understood that any negative consequences resulting from this incident and patient complaint for Ms. Marshall would lead to an accusation that management was targeting her and retaliating against her due to her protected union activity.”
Noto said Marshall and Lamb acknowledge that they did not follow standard procedure when administering the blood transfusion, but said the evidence will show that they performed the transfusion “in the same manner that many of the ICU nurses performed the blood transfusions throughout the years.”
Noto said they made sure the blood was for the correct patient at the nurses’ station rather than at the patient’s bedside.
“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,” Noto said.
In a previous interview with The Ithaca Voice regarding the case, Marshall said “They’re holding myself to a different standard than they make everybody else go by.” However, she said she would “absolutely” go back to her position at Cayuga Medical Center.
The charging party is asking that Lamb and Marshall be reinstated to the positions with back pay and interest.
Initial patient complaint provided by Cayuga Medical Center:
“In July I started needing to have blood transfusions. From day one the nurses talked me through the protocol they would be following whenever they administers a blood product for me. Call for blood, wait. Get Tylenol and Benadryl. Blood arrives, 2 nurses are in the room with the blood. They scan my name band, they ask me my name and birthdate. They read my name and number off my wrist and compare it to the paperwork. They then read the numbers on the blood bag and compare it to the paperwork numbers. If everything matches, then they start the blood.
Unfortunately I ended up in the hospital on September 5th. All my blood numbers were very low and I had an infection somewhere. In the next few days numerous blood products were hung and the protocol was followed. On September 11th it was determined that I would need a bag of blood. Nurse calls, we wait. My sister and aunt were in the room. The nurse comes in hangs the bag and starts the blood. I looked at her and said “What about the protocol?” And she said “Oh, we did that at the desk.”–and left the room. My sister, who is an RN in the state of Maine, ran over to the blood to check the numbers. I said “This isn’t how it’s ever been done.” The numbers checked, so I relaxed, but when Scott come into the room (I think he was charge nurse for the day) I voiced my major concerns to him. All previous nurses had made me aware of the protocol and led me through it—this nurse did none. Scott told me he would speak to the nurse, and let me know after he did. I need the hospital to be aware of this breech of protocol and seriousness I felt being vulnerable in my bed.”
The hearing is open to the public and will continue at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Tompkins County Courthouse, 320 N. Tioga St., Ithaca.