Patient Care Not Up to Standard? The MN Whistleblower Act Protects Healthcare Employees Who Report Substandard Patient Care

Healthcare employees care deeply about their patients and work extremely hard, navigating complex medical and ethical situations every day to give their patients great care. These workers also recognize when patients aren’t being treated up to the clinical or ethical standards required in the healthcare field. When this happens, healthcare employees should be able to report substandard care without fearing retaliation from their employer; no one should have to choose between their paycheck and doing the right thing for their patients. Thankfully, Minnesota law recognizes the bravery of healthcare workers advocating for their patients and protects them from retaliation.

The Minnesota Whistleblower Act protects employees who report “a situation in which the quality of health care services provided by a health care facility, organization, or health care provider violates a standard established by federal or state law or a professionally recognized national clinical or ethical standard and potentially places the public at risk of harm.”1  While this provision protects healthcare employees from retaliation when they report violations of professionally recognized clinical or ethical standards, it raises an important question:

What – legally – is a “professionally recognized national clinical or ethical standard”?

Clinical and ethical standards are guidelines defining how patients should be treated, including the medical care they receive and the respect they are afforded as human beings. While Minnesota law doesn’t specifically define “national clinical or ethical standard,” the Minnesota Court of Appeals recently held that a hospital employee’s complaint about the hospital being short-staffing was protected.2  The court, recognizing that staffing levels and patient safety are intertwined, relied on Minnesota’s statewide requirement that hospitals staff patient-care areas with “enough qualified personnel on duty to provide the standard of care and maintenance in the hospital which is necessary for [patient] well-being.” 3

In addition to safe staffing levels, other examples of national clinical or ethical standards include maintaining cleanly patient spaces, safely handling and distributing medications, attending to patient hygiene, and keeping accurate patient care and financial records, among many more. If a healthcare employee reports that the proper standards aren’t being met (a practice often referred to as “whistleblowing”), it is illegal for their employer to retaliate against them.

Unfortunately, healthcare employers often do retaliate against whistleblowers advocating for their patients to receive the dignified, safe treatment they deserve. When that happens, patient advocates need someone in their corner. At MSB Employment Justice, we fearlessly advocate for whistleblowers. We can help protect you while you work to protect your patients. Reach out to MSB if your employer has
retaliated against you for reporting patient safety issues or violations of clinical and ethical standards.

1 Minn. Stat. § 181.932, subd. 4.

2 Metcalf v. Allina Health System, No. A20-1620, 2021 WL 4059660 (Minn. Ct. App. Sept. 7, 2021).

3 Id. (citing Minn. R. 4640.0900, subp. 2).

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