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PJC Amicus Brief Supports Nurse Whistleblower

On April 16, 2008, Murnaghan Fellow Gregory Care filed an amicus brief in the Maryland Court of Appeals in the nurse whistleblower case of Lark v. Montgomery Hospice, Inc. The PJC represented itself and the United Seniors of Maryland, Voices for Quality Care, American Nurses Association, American College of Nurse-Midwives, Maryland Nurses Association, Maryland Nurses Coalition, and Maryland Coalition of Nurse Practitioners on the brief. This case seeks to ensure the proper interpretation of a statute granting Maryland’s health care workers protection from retaliatory firings by their employers when such workers disclose what they believe to be unethical or illegal practices by their employer. The statute in question, the Health Care Worker Whistleblower Protection Act (HCWWPA), clearly protects both workers who report problems to superiors within their employer organization (“internal whistleblowing”) and those who report to authorities external to the employer (“external whistleblowing”). In Lark, the Circuit Court for Montgomery County read the HCWWPA to require an external report for a health care workers to receive protection against retaliation, thus leaving unprotected workers who report problems only internally who then get fired. The Court of Appeals took the case up before the intermediate Court of Special Appeals had considered it, signaling the significant public importance of the issue. The PJC’s brief argued that the statute and its legislative history makes clear the General Assembly’s intent to protect “internal whistleblowing.” The brief also pointed out that many other states have endorsed the phenomenon of internal disclosures as deserving protection equal to that of external disclosures. Moreover, the brief detailed how experts in the nursing field believe that whistleblower protection for nurses is critical to protecting the health and well-being of health care consumers because it allows nurses, the traditional patient advocates, to speak up against improper care without risking their careers and livelihood. The proper interpretation of the HCWWPA will protect the rights of both health care workers and health care consumers throughout the state of Maryland.

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