Claiming to Do Their Utmost for Patients, Hospitals May Be Ignoring Work Related Injuries to Their Staff

Rodney Warner
Rodney Warner
Hospital marketing and advertising are designed to give you the warm fuzzies when it comes to their treatment and care. Wonderful, talented, experienced doctors and surgeons using state of the art technology to provide patients the best care in a warm, caring environment. That may or may not be the reality for the patient, but for too many hospital nurses that’s not the case after being injured on the job.

This issue is part of a series of reports from NPR on the high rate of injuries among health care workers and how those injuries are treated by their employers. It’s a frankly scary look behind the scene at what happens at I’m guessing is a number of hospitals across the country. It’s also maddening to learn that a group of hardworking, caring individuals can be treated so coldly, as if they’re disposable hospital supplies.

The most recent NPR piece features Mission Hospital in Ashville, North Carolina. It discusses the situation of a long time nurse there, Terry Cawthorn, who after a series of back injuries due to lifting patients was fired from her job. She got treatment at Mission (including surgery), her doctors there stated the injuries were work related, but the hospital denied that, denied her worker’s compensation claim and fired her. That reportedly wasn’t an isolated incident, with NPR reporting that the North Carolina workers comp system and the state appeals court repeatedly ruled in recent years that Mission denied compensation and payment for medical care for injured nurses and others despite clear evidence of work related injuries.

NPR found this was not unusual for Mission and it hadn’t gone unnoticed. The doctor in charge of the hospital’s employee health program warned how the workers’ compensation department was operating “shakes the very foundation of quality and patient safety.” He also called a decision by the workers’ compensation department “mean-spirited” and wrote, “I cannot stand by and watch our employees treated that way.” Hospital administration reportedly told him to mind his own business.

North Carolina’s worker’s comp system accused the hospital of providing false information, acting in bad faith and that the hospital’s handling of Cawthorn’s case constituted fraud. “What is particularly disturbing is that this is a hospital,” Douglas Berger, a former judge on North Carolina’s state workers’ compensation court for ten years, NPR quotes as saying. “This is a hospital who you would think, out of all the corporate actors, would be the most sensitive to treating injured workers fairly and decently.”

Studies by the U.S. government and university researchers in the 1990’s showed that hospitals can prevent many injuries to nurses caused by lifting and moving patients if hospitals invest enough time and money, according to NPR. Special equipment to move patients, like powered ceiling hoists need to be purchased and staff needs training to use the equipment and learn how to properly move patients. But that costs money and a dollar not spent on workers comp or safety equipment is a dollar that can be spent on the latest laser surgery gizmo, merging with another hospital or maybe the next marketing campaign.

In apparent response to the NPR story the hospital issued this rebuttal on their website. Whether this is the truth or just more marketing, I don’t know.

As cancer patients we want the best treatment, the most services and the best atmosphere where we get treated. We just don’t want those things at the price of a hospital nickel and diming their staff when it comes to preventing workplace injuries and compensating employees when they happen.

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