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Nurse blows whistle on EMT's dereliction of duty.

ON JULY 6, 2006, NURSE CALIN KEIMIG, WHILE ON AN AMBULANCE TRANSFER RIDE WITH NORWOOD BAYBRIDGE, AN EMT EMPLOYED BY THE CITY OF ORTONVILLE, NOTED THAT THE EMT WAS INATTENTIVE TO HIS DUTIES TOWARD THE PATIENT. The EMT failed to log the patient's vital signs, made personal phone calls, and at one point, appeared to be taking a nap. Nurse Keimig reported the incident to her superiors. Another EMT on the transfer, Rusty Dimberg, made a similar report to the Director of Ortonville Ambulance Service, Tom Scobic. Scobic discussed the incident with the Ambulance Board at its next meeting, and then asked Keimig to make a written report. Ambulance Board member James Hasslen was present at the board meeting. The board members all agreed that Baybridge's behavior constituted a gross violation of patient-care protocols. In the following months, additional complaints were documented concerning Baybridge. Dimberg documented several incidents, including one in which Baybridge did not act with sufficient diligence with a distressed patient. Another EMT described additional incidents, including one that prompted a patient's family member to inquire about Baybridge by asking, "Who was that jerk?" Scobic wrote his own letter describing Baybridge's tendency to misuse the ambulance's siren to the point of irritating patients. The ambulance service's medical director wrote a letter articulating a fear that the service might have difficulty staffing shifts because of the number of staff members who preferred not to work with Baybridge. Scobic also took other steps to follow up on the July 6 incident, tie consulted with the city attorney, city council, and the city's consultant for human-resource issues. He sent a report to the Minnesota Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board. With other members of the Ambulance Board, he sought to amend the EMT protocols to explicitly state that sleeping during a patient transfer is grounds for discipline. Scobic met with Baybridge and offered him the opportunity to resign, but did not terminate his employment. Baybridge did not resign. In November 2006, the city council approved a discipline plan drafted by Scobic who again met with the EMT who refused to sign the plan or acknowledge the complaints about him. The EMT did not sign up for any further shifts, citing both personal and legal reasons. Baybridge filed suit in January 2007, alleging, in part, that the actions taken by Scobic were in retaliation against him. The trial court granted the City's motion for summary judgment. Baybridge appealed.

THE COURT OF APPEAL OF MINNESOTA AFFIRMED THE ORDER OF THE TRIAL COURT IN GRANTING THE CITY'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT. The court held, inter alia, that the EMT's defamation and related claims were barred either by absolute immunity or a qualified privilege. Absolute immunity bars a defamation suit where doing so serves the public interest by allowing government officials to freely address matters pertinent to the performance of their assigned duties. The court noted that the Minnesota Supreme Court held that a state trooper's statements in an arrest report were immune because such statements are part of the trooper's job, provide useful information for his superiors and other officials, and play an important part in achieving a fair trial. In addition, the court relied on the tact that allowing civil suits could deter officers from "fearlessly and vigorously preparing a detailed, accurate report." The court found that Nurse Keimig, who was not a member of the Ambulance Board, was protected by a qualified privilege. Such privilege applied because she showed that she made the allegedly defamatory statements "in good faith ... upon a proper occasion, with a proper motive, and ... upon reasonable or probable cause." The court was convinced that the record showed, by clear and convincing evidence, that Nurse Keimig reported her observations only to relevant parties, and that she considered it part of her job to do so. She reported her observations promptly, and only reduced them to writing when asked to do so by relevant authorities. She directly observed the reported actions, and her reports were, therefore, supported by probable cause.

WHISTLEBLOWERS HAVE IMMUNITY FROM SUIT SO LONG AS THEY ACT WITHOUT MALICE AND OR PREJUDICE TO THE OBJECT OF THEIR CRITICISM. What is most impressive about the court's characterization of Nurse Keimig's role in the case is the fact that the court recognized that "she considered it part of her job to do so." Had Nurse Keimig failed to report the dereliction of duty of the EMT to her superiors she would have failed in fulfilling her duties as a nurse. Whenever any nurse observes behavior that is below the applicable standard of care, not only should he or she report it to their superiors, but they must report it to their superiors. Fortunately, the good faith reporting of any misconduct insulates nurses, as well as other health care professionals from liability. Baybridge v. City of Ortonville, 2009-MN-0408.128 (4/7/2009)-MN

Meet the Editor & Publisher: A. David Tammelleo, JD, is a nationally recognized authority on health care law. Practicing lab for over 40 years, he concentrates in health care law with the Rhode Island firm of A. David Tammelleo & Associates. He has presented seminars on medical, nursing and hospital law throughout the United States. In addition to his writings as Editor of Medical Law's, Nursing Law's & Hospital Law's Regan Reports, his legal articles have been published in the most prestigious health law journals. A prolific writer, his thousands of articles, as well as his achievements as an attorney and lecturer, have won him recognition in Martindale-Hubbell's Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, Marquis Who's Who in American Law, Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the World
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Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Publication:Nursing Law's Regan Report
Article Type:Case overview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2009
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