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They Fired Her for Breaking the Rules, But Her Colleagues Say She Saved a Life


Dueling narratives are playing out at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, New Jersey. The hospital recently fired a nurse for breaking protocol while treating a patient, but her colleagues say her quick thinking might have saved the patient’s life. The dispute has led to the suspension of nine nurses, a petition demanding that the nurses be reinstated, and a protest outside the facility.

It all started on March 1 when the nurse in question was trying to administer an IV. According to 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the union representing the nurses, the nurse, who isn’t being identified for privacy reasons, needed to stabilize a patient with a securement device to administer the IV. But the hospital said her actions were an “egregious” breach of protocol.

The nurse “not only violated hospital protocols, it was also so egregious that it likely would have violated protocols of care at any hospital,” read a statement from Clara Maass, part of the RWJBarnabas Health network.

Members of the union created a petition to support the nurse. It was filed by about a dozen nurses, including the one who administered the IV, and gathered some 170 signatures.

“The petition sought reconsideration of the Hospital’s decision to suspend the nurse for 2 weeks after she safely — and according to her (professional) judgment and specialized training — rendered critical care to one of the Hospital’s patients who was in dire need of an IV line to enable the patient to receive medication,” read a statement from 1199SEIU. “The nurse’s care and diligence may have saved that patient’s life.”

But the hospital came back and said the punishment was just. The incident and related discipline were “reviewed and sanctioned by the employee’s peers through a standard peer review process that the union was fully aware of and participated in,” the company said in a statement.

More nurses were disciplined after they tried to confront a nurse manager on the floor about the nurse’s firing.

“Other employees were disciplined after a large group of individuals, including nursing staff and an unauthorized non-employee representative, surrounded an experienced nursing director on a patient unit and in front of patient rooms to challenge the suspension of the individual involved in the original patient issue,” a spokesperson for the hospital said in the statement.

“The manager felt so intimidated and threatened for their personal safety that the director filed a formal complaint,” it continued. “Such behavior cannot and will not be tolerated and will be met with swift and decisive action.”

The nurse who administered the IV was eventually fired on May 15 and the other suspended nurses have since returned to work.

The union filed a complaint against the hospital for unfair labor practices. It also organized a protest in front of the Belleville facility to highlight ongoing staff shortages that were only made worse by the nurse’s firing. “This is despite the nurse following all hospital procedures and acting to protect the safety of her patient and herself,” the 1199SEIU statement said.

Clara Maass declined to share more details about the incident, citing patient privacy concerns. But it added that it is “committed to working in good faith with their union through the collective bargaining process.”

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