When we have a relative confined to a nursing home, honest employees and whistleblower protections can sometimes be our only hope to guarantee a loved one´s well-being.
A Tennessee appellate panel just sent a clear message to substandard long-term care providers that the law will continue to protect and reward nursing home whistleblowers.
The panel affirmed a $425,000 award to nurse Latisia Upshaw, who allegedly suffered retaliatory termination after reporting to the authorities that the Sunrise Community nursing home was failing to provide proper care to one of its patients.
Upshaw had been awarded $225,000 and $200,000 in compensatory and punitive damages respectively.
According to her allegations, for which the court found sufficient evidence, a hospice patient of Sunrise Community´s had been fed a partly solid diet after doctors ordered an exclusively liquid diet.
The nursing home had appealed the decision to grant Upshaw a whistleblower award, claiming that she waited 11 days between reporting the misconduct internally, and to the authorities.
The appellate panel found that Upshaw had actually raised her concerns several times at different hierarchy levels within Sunrise management.
According to the panel´s final ruling, “the evidence in the record as a whole preponderates in favor of a finding that Upshaw was a whistleblower pursuant to the common law definition.” The judge in the original case had ruled that the whistleblower had “furthered a clear public policy of reporting overfeeding of a client in direct violation of medical order and that the report was timely.”
During the trial, Upshaw had testified that as a result of the overfeeding, the patient had vomited several times, something Upshaw had seen with her own eyes, according to her testimony.
The court believed that whether Upshaw had been fired in retaliation could be open to interpretation, but it expressed no doubt as to Sunrise´s responsibility in the reported misconduct.
The authorities equally signaled that the nursing home had effectively tried to conceal evidence, including some of Upshaw´s internal complaints. This led the panel to dismiss Sunrise´s objections to the granting of punitive damages.
“Viewing the circumstances as a whole, we find the record contains material evidence supporting the jury’s finding by clear and convincing evidence that Sunrise acted intentionally and that punitive damages were proper,” the panel concluded.
It takes great courage for nursing home whistleblowers to risk their job security to expose wrongdoers, but it is thanks to brave individuals like nurse
Upshaw that court rulings can continue to deter long-term care providers from behaviors that can often put patients at risk. In fact, whistleblowers like Upshaw have saved and will continue to save many lives.
Are you an employee or ex-employee of a nursing home or other long term care facility with information on substandard care, or worse?
You may be eligible for a whistleblower award but you should check with our experienced whistleblower lawyers to help protect your job and earn the maximum reward. Call Us at 833.201.1555 or Check Your Eligibility Online – confidential and no-cost.