March 04, 2010 | | Comments 10
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Snow storm paralyzes D.C. area, leaves 11 nurses jobless

In the aftermath of what President Obama dubbed “Snowmaggedon,” the Washington, DC, area slowly dug its way out of record-breaking snowfall. And 11 nurses and five other staffers from the area’s Washington Hospital Center were fired for failing to show up during the back-to-back storms.

When nurses graduate, they take a pledge to “do all in (my) power to raise the standards and the prestige of practical nursing”, but in light of the firing, many are questioning at what point one should draw the line and say nurses should consider their own health and safety first?

Shirley Ricks, one of the nurses who was recently terminated, tells The Washington Post she missed her shift on February 8 because the street she lives on remained unplowed, and her and her husband could only get their driveway cleared.

“I see it so unfair and uncaring,” the paper quotes Ricks as saying. “You call in one day in the biggest snowstorm in history and you’re out. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.”

The paper reports that the hospital’s “Declared Weather (Or Other) Emergency” policy does not state that employees who fail to make it to work will be terminated. The policy specifically states “unscheduled absences and late arrivals occurring during a declared weather emergency are not counted when addressing attendance issues, nor are authorized early departures.”

Nurses United of the National Capital Region has filed a class-action grievance with the hospital in response to these terminations, while the American Nurses Association says it is looking at potential nationwide consequences of the hospital’s action.


Do you agree with Washington Hospital Center’s reaction? What kind of policy does your facility have in place for emergencies?


Source: The Washington Post

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Sarah Kearns About the Author: Sarah is an Editorial Assistant in the patient safety group at HCPro, Inc. She contributes to two monthly newsletters; Briefings on the Joint Commission and Briefings on Patient Safety, and manages four e-zines; Accreditation Connection, AHAP Staff Challenge, Nurse Manager Weekly, and Healthcare Training Weekly. She also helps research new products for the patient safety and nursing market. She graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2008 where she earned her bachelor's degree in English.

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  1. I can see both sides:

    Were ALL the days that these nurses called off work officially labelled “snow emergency” days? Did the hospital offer to transport any of them via snowmobile and they declined? How did the hundreds of other employees make it in to work?
    All of these have been factors where I live, here in the Midwest, concerning attendance on days with freezing rain and/or heavy snowfall. Therefore, it is not certain that the hospital violated their own policy with employees that may have called off work on some of the relatively better days that were not official snow emergency days. And…….if that is the case…….what were their attendance records like prior to these call-ins? Were these staff members already sitting on the fence for previous bad attendance?

    On the other hand, I would think it a sacrilege for an institution to take advantage of a snowstorm…..violating their own policy…in order to get rid of some positions during these hard economic times. We’ve all heard of other facilities, too proud to admit to layoffs, employing such methods to tighten their belts.

    It will be interesting to see if the hospital posts and rehires these positions in the near future…….

  2. What a bunch of bs….why should we risk our health and welfare? The hospital should have mandated a snow emergency and kept the existing RN’s and put them up in the closest high class hotel for sleep shifts….it makes you want to not be a RN when you hear stuff like this. I do home health and I called out for both storms, yes they took it out of my paycheck and yes, they were not happy but I put my safety first also and no job is worth your health….would they rather have a Nurse killed in a car accident on the way to work or mandate the Nurses already there to stay and offer hotel accomodations…the money for the hotel is worth it for the hospital, they get refreshed Nurses and the ones who can’t make it in will stay safe. The “C” suite are not thinking…and I bet they didn’t show up for work either.

  3. Sounds like the DC hospital doesn’t follow their own written policies. If so, I hope they created their own nursing staff shortage. All hospitals/other health care facilities need disaster response contingency planning and practice should follow policy.

    I’ve been in nursing for 37 years and the above article and subsequent posts affirm why I will NEVER work general duty in a hospital. I won’t risk my own neck to get to work. The tired staff already stuck at work can’t leave until their relief arrives, and therefore may be expected to work in impossible conditions for multiple shifts. Hurricane Katrina comes to mind.

    Blizzards or snowstorms are generally self-limiting, but what would YOU do if you were expected to report to work during a biological/chemical (anthrax; ricin; etc.)release due to terrorism? Either commuting to work or working with exposures could possibly jeopardize your health or your family’s health.

    Here are 2 interesting publications dealing with nurse response during disasters:
    *http://journals.lww.com/aenjournal/Fulltext/2009/07000/Disaster_Dilemma__Factors_Affecting_Decision_to.10.aspx
    *http://www.nursing.umn.edu/img/assets/32877/ajic_090106.pdf

  4. I do not agree with the administrations decision to fire this staff. Living in upstate New York we have snow frequently but when we have a large storm we plan to have staff stay over, work to get staff in whenever they can get in to relieve their colleagues, understand that it is not always possible and hope that staff will give in other ways to their colleagues. Plannnig for the emergency is the Administrations responsibility and they should have anticipated staff may not make it to work. Pulling together in the crisis is the answer not firing staff who could not, despite trying (it sounds like in some cases).
    If any of those nurse want to relocate to upstate New York please come – we will be glad to have your experience and your caring for our patients

  5. Sadly, I thnk this article is quite myopic. Like so many other “news” article it lacks much relevant information. How many nurses did make it in to work under the same circumstances as those fired? Are there any other circumstances that were taken into consideration? Was emergency transportation offered? Perhaps we should be aware of all the facts before giving an opinion?

  6. This story does not give all the facts. Nowhere does it mention that lodging or cots were available, nor does it mention the fact that 4-wheel drive vehicles were used to transport staff.

    I know for a fact that our contracting agency picked up all nurses who were scheduled to work (I’m in the DC Metro area and a nurse manager) and all the contract nurses were available. They had absolutely no call-outs or call-offs. We provided beds in our APU and staff members with 4-wheel drive vehicles volunteered to pick up staff members who couldn’t navigate the roads. When the snow was scheduled to increase, we called our night crew in to sleep at the hospital prior to their shift for their safety and for patient safety.

    Please make sure you have all the facts before you start discussions. That’s why juries come up with different verdicts than newspaper readers.

  7. It is hard to imagine a facility taking this stance. As many others have stated, there are often other factors to take into consideration.
    Our facility strongly encourages staff to plan ahead when the likelihood of a weather event is strong and make every effort to be at work. We also provide rooms for staff to stay in at the hospital if it is too dangerous for them to travel back and forth.

  8. There is no better management than planning ahead as what others had elaborated. We use benefit days for uncontrolled events like snowstorms.

  9. Would this have happened prior to the recession, when the nursing shortage was real (and not media hype?) I think not. Yet another example of how a vicious corporate exec gets away with ruining lives and careers to cover over his own shortcomings and poor “management.” And lets not forget a not-so-suble attempt at union-busting as well.That the Board of Trustees let him get away with it is the bigger travesty. What a bunch of paternalistic cowards they must be. Funny how the hospital can’t run without these nurses, but they can do quite well in a nursing lay-off.

  10. …we’ll hit a sort of “brick wall” in the year 2010. That’s the year that the US government forecasts that we hit the tipping point, where there will be just enough nurses to take care of all the patients in the normal course of the day. After 2010, we begin to fall down a rather slippery slope.

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