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Michigan nurses union sues Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital over alleged staffing, patient safety issues

Nurses say hospital leaders violated the whistleblower provisions of the Michigan Public Health Code when they refused to accept reports.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Credit: DMSCredit: DMS

Unionized nurses at Michigan's Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital are suing their hospital due what they call unsafe staffing levels that have resulted in harm and poor conditions.

Members of the Professional Nurses Association, an affiliate of the Michigan Nurses Association, filed the lawsuit on the heels of a new report that describes the patient safety issues they are alleging.

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Nurses formed the union in March 2016 and are in the process of bargaining for their first contract at Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital, a 158-bed facility. They told a press briefing Thursday that safe staffing is their top priority. It is also the crux of their lawsuit.

The lawsuit has been filed in Oakland County Circuit Court, and alleges that HVSH, which started out in 1986 as a nonprofit but is now owned by Tenet Healthcare, violated the whistleblower provisions of the Michigan Public Health Code when hospital executives repeatedly refused to accept reports of unsafe conditions in the hospital. Those reports are known as Assignment Despite Objection forms and require a response within 60 days, the union said. They are used when a nurse is unable to carry out a given assignment safely in accordance with professional standards.

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The report, called "Unable to Provide Safe Patient Care" is based on more than 240 Assignment Despite Objections forms filed by nurses at HVSH between January 1 and September 1, 2017.  The issues, which nurse say are a direct result of inadequate staffing include patient falls, medications delivered late despite physician orders for immediate treatment, patients laying in their own urine and feces with no bath for several days, restraints applied to a patient  instead of sending him/her to the Intensive Care Unit, nurses assigned to the Intensive Care Unit without proper training and patients being left unattended following heart catheter procedures.

"Our supervisors just flat out refused to accept hundreds of Assignment Despite Objection forms. We have a right to blow the whistle on unsafe conditions – and that's why we're taking the hospital to court," said Jeanie Kindermann, RN, a cardiology nurse and member of the executive board of PNA-HVSH.

PNA-HVSH will submit "Unable to Provide SafePatient Care" to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, calling on state regulators to investigate patient care at Tenet DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital.

The hospital pushed back against the allegations saying it provides safe, quality care with staffing "based upon daily census and level of patient acuity, which is consistent with industry standards." They said they are negotiating in good faith with the nurses union in order to reach an agreement on a contract.

"Unfortunately, the union has chosen to use patient safety as a bargaining tactic, which we will not do nor will we negotiate with them in the media. We maintain one robust system for monitoring quality of care that all staff are trained on and expected to use to submit potential patient or employee safety issue concerns. We question the validity and accuracy of information derived from any other non-approved tracking source," said Lori Stallings-Sicard, the
Chief Nursing Officer at DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital.

She also cited repeated high marks awarded to the hospital by the Leapfrog Group as well as Magnet Recognition by The American Nurses Credentialing Center.

"Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital also is an MPRO Governor's Award of Excellence recipient due to its effective reporting and measurement for outpatient quality reporting efforts. An organization does not achieve these types of recognition in an environment where patient safety is not a top priority."

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
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