Temple Hospital Gags Nurses, Endangering Patients: Please Help

by National Nurses Movement

Mon Mar 29, 2010 at 10:00:03 AM PST

Do you wish that your nurse had a gag order preventing her from speaking up on behalf of patients?  Should RNs be fired for reporting on hospital safety errors?  What about prosecuted for blowing the whistle on quack doctors or heartless healthcare corporations?  

Unfortunately this is exactly what too many hospitals are trying to do in our nation today.  While the healthcare bill may have passed, there remain life and death patient safety and care issues that we as a nation need to address.  

If you are a supporter of America’s nurses, please read what we’re talking about, below, and then offer your solidarity with RNs. We believe this story will outrage you.

This problem is coming to a head at Philadelphia’s Temple University Hospital, which has placed its reputation on the line with effort to silence the Registered Nurses who work in the facility.  If Temple succeeds, we are looking at the end of those nurses’ ability to independently critique  the quality of care offered at Temple or to advocate fully on behalf of their patients.

Temple’s not the first hospital to hope to make its troublesome, formidable nurse corps just shuts up.

Last summer, 200 or RNs at University of California, San Francisco marched and protested when one of their nurse colleagues was fired for protesting an unsafe response to Swine Flu.  Last Autumn, every nurse in America watched horrified as two Texas nurses were prosecuted by a County sheriff  for reporting wildly unsafe actions by a doctor buddy.  Texas nurses have been pushing a law to protect whistle-blowers ever since.

But in many ways the Temple case is worse than these.  Temple President Ann Weaver Hart has proposed that her employees get disciplined whenever they criticize Temple, regardless of whether they are stating facts or opinions.  Hart wants this to be written into the nurses’ contract as a condition of their employment.  That's right: speak up for your patients, lose your job.

The dispute will come to a head on Wednesday, March 31, when more than 1000 RNs and some 500 healthcare workers go out on strike against the hospital.  Listen to more here or read about it here.

More than just a fundamental violation of free speech rights, attempts like these to gag nurses are unsafe and endanger patients at their most vulnerable.  Nurses and healthcare professionals need to be able to stand up for their patients, even if it causes criticism of the hospital. They are independent professionals.  The sad irony of Temple’s 'gag clause' proposal is that academic studies have shown that hospitals with union professionals provide superior patient care. Because union nurses and health professionals often feel more secure about speaking out for their patients, they can expose and help fix risky patient care practices before they cause harm.

As Malinda Markowitz, RN, co-President of National Nurses United, put it: "Nurses are ethically, professionally, and often legally obligated to serve as patient advocates.  We must always consider the good of the patient in our work, even if it means standing up to hospital bureaucrats, or insurance companies, or even doctors making mistakes.  If a system like Temple gags nurses, the patients there could lose their independent, professional advocate.  That might be good for Temple’s bottom line, but it sets a very dangerous precedent for patient care."

Temple’s exact demand is to bar any comments by Registered Nurses that, "criticize, ridicule or make any statement which disparages Temple, or any of its affiliates or any of their respective managers or medical staff members." Well,  "It's a terrible clause," says (Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals/PASNAP) president Patricia Eakin, a TUH emergency room nurse. "I've been at Temple for almost 27 years, I've bargained a lot of the contracts, and I'm simply flabbergasted. I'm astonished that among the many terrible things they are trying to put in the contract, they are trying to insert this terrible gag clause that prevents us from saying anything to the public."

Nurses of course won’t stand for this—-and can’t.  Agreeing to a gag order like this would betray the core principles of nursing.  As a result, this Wednesday, March 31, more than 1000 RNs and another 500 healthcare workers are set to go on strike against Temple University Hospital.  As James McCarthy, RN asked: "Why does Temple administration maintain such an antagonistic approach to the professional and dedicated staff who are the only employees that spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a 233k, 365 days a year providing DIRECT patient care?  Shouldn’t we be recognized as their most valued asset?

This will be the largest strike in our nation and one of the largest strikes by nurses in history.  RNs across the country send this support to the brave nurses, and we ask out allies to stand in solidarity as well.  You can:

  1. Send Temple a message:
  1. Call Temple President Ann Weaver Hart and tell her nurses CANNOT be silenced: 215-204-7405
  1. Donate to Support the Temple Nurses, or follow them on Facebook/Twitter:

We will bring you updates as we receive them...