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Wrongdoing happens in all occupations; however, unethical behavior in nursing can jeopardize the well-being of patients or even result in fatalities. That is why it is imperative for nurses to stay vigilant and report improper behavior. It is not easy to be a whistleblower, but nurses have a responsibility to protect patients.

What Does Blowing the Whistle Mean?

When nurses blow the whistle, it means that they are revealing an unsafe, unethical or illegal circumstance. The issue can be reported internally to someone in authority or externally to people outside of the healthcare organization. Whistleblowers may be former or current employees who have uncovered or witnessed an offense.

Why Is It Called Whistleblowing?

The article “Whistleblowing in Healthcare” published in the Encyclopedia of Bioethics explains that the term whistleblowing is a metaphor that derives from sports — a referee uses a whistle to call a foul in a game.

What Are Examples of Whistleblowing Cases?

A whistleblower is a person who justifiably discloses dishonest or harmful actions. Here are a few cases of whistleblowing in nursing:

Diane McNamara and the Denver VA Medical Center – McNamara filed a suit against the United States government citing serious problems with the nursing care at the healthcare facility where she worked as an overnight nurse. A judge ruled in her favor.

Cecilia Guardiola and Banner Health – The healthcare system agreed to pay approximately $18 million to settle whistleblower claims brought forward by Guardiola, a former employee. Guardiola is an RN who was hired as a director to oversee clinical documentation. She resigned after three months when she discovered that Medicare was improperly billed for services.

Katrina Wesemann and Heritage Enterprises Inc. – Wesemann was a nurse who worked for the Heritage Health nursing home. She was fired after reporting the abuse and neglect of patients. The nurse won her lawsuit against the company and was awarded $5.2 million.

What Are the Ethical Concerns?

Whistleblowing is a serious matter. It is important that nurses who discover proof or see a breach in the standards of practice speak out while adhering to protocols for whistleblowing. They should not engage in spreading rumors, no matter how true they may be. Instead, they need to handle the situation in a proper manner. Otherwise a patient’s privacy may be violated or unjust assertions can irreparably disgrace individuals or companies. Nurses must proceed carefully, ethically and responsibly.

What Should Nurses Do Before Blowing the Whistle?

Nurses may expose themselves to prosecution if they do not take the appropriate measures. To safeguard against legal retribution for whistleblowing, nurses should follow these steps:

  • Document the violation.
  • Record all interactions pertaining to the whistleblowing incident.
  • Stay objective by only chronicling the facts and not making personal judgements.
  • Put the complaint in writing.
  • Before proceeding with the whistleblowing, consult with your state nurses association or legal counsel.

Is There Danger Involved in Whistleblowing?

Yes, nurses may suffer repercussions for bringing attention to misconduct. Some employers would rather sweep their misdeeds under the rug to avoid financial consequences and damage to their reputation. Nurses who become whistleblowers may endure backlash such as being:

  • Shunned or ostracized by coworkers
  • Considered disloyal to the company
  • Fired by the employer
  • Sued by the employer or the accused offender

Whistleblowing is necessary when patients do not receive quality and safe care. The reasons for blowing the whistle may include the neglect or abuse of patients. In addition to patient safety, fraudulent billing is a deceitful and unlawful practice and has an impact on the cost of healthcare for everyone. Nurses have a professional obligation to keep patients free from harm and stop illicit and immoral acts in healthcare.

Learn more about Mississippi College’s online RN to BSN program.


AZcentral: Banner Health Settles Whistleblower Case for $18 Million Is a Whistleblower Always Legally Protected?

CBS Denver: David Vs. Goliath: Nurse Wins Whistleblowing Lawsuit Against VA

Daily Journal: Former Nurse Awarded $5.2M in Nursing Home Lawsuit

American Nurses Association: Things to Know About Whistle Blowing

Nursing Times: Whistleblowing in Health and Social Care

Encyclopedia of Bioethics: Whistleblowing in Healthcare

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