Nurses Respond to Hopkins $40 Million Pediatric Malpractice Settlements
Root Causes Persist Say RNs, Including Culture that Silences Frontline Staff
Johns Hopkins Health System’s (JHHS) recent settlement with two more families whose children were paralyzed after heart surgeries at their Tampa Bay facility brings the current tally resulting from malpractice there to $40 million. More multimillion-dollar settlements for patients and families harmed by the hospital’s conduct are expected in the coming months.
Registered nurses working at Johns Hopkins are watching these legal developments closely since they have been locked in a battle with the system over their efforts to improve patient care and unionize its flagship hospital in Baltimore.
“These settlements are huge but they will never ever truly compensate families for the extreme harm done to their children. It is absolutely astounding to us as bedside nurses, that JHHS would rather risk millions of dollars in future malpractice settlements than seriously rectify one of the root causes of these tragedies, an organizational culture that silences and punishes frontline health care workers, including bedside RNs, when they attempt to advocate for needed improvements in patient care,” said Zenei Cortez, RN and president, National Nurses United.
The troubles at JHHS’ All Children’s pediatric care unit came to light with the publication of a 2018 Tampa Bay Times investigative series which documented lapses in care, and a failure of the hospital management to address problems flagged by frontline health care workers for several years. After a thorough investigation, the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services concluded in a 49-page report that JHHS had failed to establish the clear lines of communication and accountability necessary to avert the medical disasters that ensued.
In a video message shared with health care workers throughout the JHHS system, the organization’s president, Kevin Sowers, admitted that “courageous” frontline health care workers were “ignored” when they raised concerns about patient safety at All Children’s Hospital. JHHS must “commit to a culture in which each of us feels empowered to speak up and speak out” if they see something that concerns them, said Sowers.
Despite Sowers’ claims to support “empowerment,” JHHS continues to illegally suppress unionization efforts at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where nurses are organizing to affiliate with National Nurses United, the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in the nation.
“Hopkins does not respect or listen to frontline nurses when we raise issues that seriously undermine the safety and quality of patient care including short staffing, inferior supplies, and equipment. The high turnover rates in many units testify to the fact that nurses feel forced to leave because they aren’t provided with the resources they need to care for patients properly,” said RN Derek Jannarone, Comprehensive Transplant Unit, Johns Hopkins Hospital. “We want union representation precisely to strengthen our capacity to advocate without fear of punishment.”
This summer an external review commissioned by JHHS reported that “fear of retaliation and retribution” was pervasive across All Children’s Hospital in Tampa. This mirrors the culture at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, according to nurses there. In fact, since the debacle in Tampa, the National Labor Relations Board has found merit in a number of unfair labor practice charges and is currently investigating charges filed in July by National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU). These charges allege Johns Hopkins Hospital continues to interfere with, discriminate against, and conduct surveillance of union staff and employees who are engaging in protected union activity.
“It is telling that JHHS would rather spend money on union busting activities and multimillion dollar malpractice payouts than recognize nurses’ right to union representation,” said Derek Jannarone, RN. “It is time for JHHS to get its priorities straight and truly focus on improving patient care throughout the system. They must learn from the devastation they caused in Tampa. They must listen to the frontline workers and recognize our right to collectively advocate as union members so that our patients get the care they deserve.”