Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.
While efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid appear to have stalled for now, any successful effort to cut Medicaid will adversely impact workplace safety for nurses and nurse’s aides.
Studies by the National Institutes of Health show that reductions in Medicaid funding leads to less staffing at long term care facilities and that lower staffing leads to more injuries for nursing employees. Since most nurses and nurse’s aides are covered under state-based workers compensation laws the additional costs of work injuries from Medicaid cuts may not be fully accounted for on a federal level.
At least in Nebraska nursing employees have some ways to protect themselves when advocating for safer working conditions even if they do not belong to a union.
Nebraska has a whistleblower law that applies specifically to health care workers, including nurses. The benefit of this act is that it allows employees to recover for damages similar to what they could collect under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act, including front pay and possibly attorney fees, without having to exhaust administrative remedies. Additionally, health care workers would have four years to bring a suit under the health care whistleblowers law, rather than the much shorter and complicated statute of limitations under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act.
Nebraska has a broad general whistleblower law that allows employees to oppose unlawful conduct by their employers. Nebraska law requires that nursing homes to be adequately staffed. Federal law also requires that employers provide a workplace to be free of recognizable hazard. Inadequate staffing would certainly be deemed be a recognizable hazard in a nursing home. The only drawback to Nebraska’s whistleblower law is the short and potentially uncertain statute of limitations.
Nebraska law would also allow nurses reporting inadequate staffing to be protected from retaliation under a public policy claim that also has a four year statute of limitations.