Hospital whistle-blower bill wins initial approval

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(Host) By a vote of 16 to 12, the Vermont Senate has given its preliminary approval to legislation that prohibits hospitals from taking retaliatory action against employees who report violations that could threaten patient safety. Opponents say the measure isn’t needed and will cause more problems than it solves.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The issue clearly divides health care employees and hospital management. The Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals argued that the bill was needed to protect employees who report issues involving patient safety. On the other side, the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Care Systems said the bill wasn’t needed because many of the state’s hospitals already have non retaliation provisions in place.

Windsor County Senator Peter Welch, who supported the measure, said the recent financial scandal at Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington might have been avoided if this bill had been passed several years ago:

(Welch) “Would we not have been better off quite possibly if we had a statute where the people who were subject to the authority of that individual, in the control of that individual, had the full protection of law? That if they came forward they could not legally lose their job? I think we’d all be better off if workers had that type of confidence.”

(Kinzel) Rutland Senator Kevin Mullin opposed the legislation because Mullin said the bill wasn’t needed and could have some negative consequences:

(Mullin) “All our small community-based hospitals do have non-retaliatory policies in place, and that every small community hospital is opposed to this bill. And our hospitals for the most part are there for our common benefit and for our common good. I do think there could be some unintended consequences here where possibly a supervisor might think twice before doling out proper discipline.”

(Kinzel) The scope of the legislation is quite limited; it applies only to hospital workers. Backers of the bill said they didn’t have time to take testimony from other health care institutions. The measure will come up for final approval in the Senate on Wednesday. If it passes – it will then be considered by the House.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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