An assistant director at a Chicago nursing home and long-term care facility alleges in a whistleblower lawsuit that she was fired in retaliation for "objecting to, reporting and refusing directives to participate in unsafe and unlawful conduct in violation of her professional nursing obligations" in relation to COVID-19 care and precautions.
The complaint comes at a time when nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide are seeing outbreaks of COVID-19 cases and climbing death tolls. In Illinois, 47% of the state's 5,083 COVID-19-related deaths have been in long-term care facilities, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
In the lawsuit, which was filed May 20 in the Cook County Circuit Court, Andrea Hinich says she was fired by Norwood Crossing on April 22 for insubordination, after challenging the distribution of personal protective equipment to employees who had not been properly fitted and trained for the gear. Hinich was told the facility didn't "have to do the fit testing" and was only giving staff "the respirators to make them feel better," the complaint says.
Hinich, who assumed the assistant director role in June 2019, also said she questioned leadership on "insufficient staffing, training, inaccurate disclosures and safety violations." These alleged shortcomings ignored rules and guidance issued by Illinois Department of Public Health, OSHA, the CDC and CMS, the suit claims, and put Hinich in a position in which she would be forced to violate the Illinois Nurse Practice Act.
Norwood Crossing has had 22 positive cases of COVID-19 and no deaths, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The 131-bed facility, which is owned by Norwood Life Society, has a five-star rating on CMS' Nursing Home Compare. Administrators at the facility could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
"One of the legal issues that is raised by this case is the fact that there are mandatory safety rules and regulations and there are safety guidance issues by government entities, and there is inconsistent enforcement among those jurisdictions. As a result, there are lapses in safety that expose workers and, in this case, residents to injury," Hinich's attorney, Jeffrey Kulwin of Kulwin, Masciopinto & Kulwin L.L.P., told Modern Healthcare.
Hinich is seeking damages of at least $100,000, as well as reinstatement and back pay, the suit says.