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Nurses union: Hospital nurse fired after publicizing COVID-19 safety concerns

Courtesy of Michigan Nurses Association

Mercy Health's Hackley Hospital in Muskegon has fired an ICU nurse after he brought media attention to safety concerns about the hospital's response to COVID-19. That's according to the Michigan Nurses Association.

The nurse's union alleged Justin Howe was fired for speaking publicly about inadequate personal protective equipment and about the need for improved screening measures at the hospital.

"Hospital corporations never like bad publicity," said Jamie Brown, president of the MNA. "And Justin was talking about a concern for the nurses, the patients, and the community. And it put the hospital corporation in a bad light."

"Within the nursing community as a whole, there are more nurses getting fired in retaliation for speaking out for our patients and ourselves." said Brown. "There's a Detroit nurse that was fired and they're working with us to get some legal help."

Howe said he has been a nurse for about seven years and has served as president of the local affiliate of the MNA.

"Nurses and health care professional should be able to speak out without fear of losing their jobs and being retaliated against," said Howe. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat. The staff, the community, they deserve to have an advocate in their corner."

Howe said the hospital alleged that he was fired for violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  He said that "is completely false."

The MNA said until now, it has no record of a nurse being fired for an alleged HIPAA violation for at least the past three years.

The MNA said it believes Howe's termination violates federal labor law and it has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

Mercy Health submitted the following written statement in response to a request for comment:

This matter is being managed pursuant to the contractual dispute resolution process, and we are confident that the termination will be upheld. All safety concerns and complaints have been investigated internally and externally by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and have been summarily dismissed.

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Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.