Can a Nursing Facility Publicize a Suspension?

An LPN in Ocala, FL has been suspended by the nursing home that she works for due to allegedly failing to report suspected resident abuse. The alleged abuser (a housekeeping employee) has been terminated, authorities are investigating, and the resident is receiving the appropriate assessment and treatment.

But the abuse is not the only questionable act to come out of this facility.

Why is it public knowledge that this nurse has been suspended pending investigation? It has always been my practice to protect, to the best of my ability, any employee involved in an investigation that could jeopardize their professional well-being. Our judicial system is based on an innocent until proven guilty premise, and an abuse investigation should follow a similar path.

If you were issuing a written warning to an employee for a timeclock violation or smoking in the parking lot, you wouldn't post a memo in the breakroom letting everyone know that this person had been "written up." You wouldn't tell the cook and ask them to tell everyone else. Discipline is intended to be educational, not punitive. Work in this mindset and there is no value in other employees knowledge of the action.

It is not always feasible to protect the identity of an employee under investigation from other employees and residents, but that should be the goal. Using names and specifics are ultimately unavoidable in an effective investigation, and confidentiality is easily compromised the second an employee leaves your office. An investigation conversation should never begin with leading questions such as "Have you ever seen John Perkins abuse a resident?" This not only immediately implicates the employee (regardless of their guilt) but also takes all objectivity away from your investigation. Remember, the goal of an investigation is to find the root cause of a problem, not to determine who is guilty.

I can't answer why this LPN's suspension hit the Ocala papers. Perhaps it was a leak, perhaps an upset family, or perhaps the facility made it public knowledge. We won't blame the facility. But the question has to be asked, "Why haven't we set standards for abuse investigations?" I guarantee that my facility measures are different from yours, and what you do to protect the resident and determine the root cause of the occurrence is different from the guy down the street. I propose that we begin to work on an industry standard for this situation. Doing so would not only formalize the procedure for long term care professionals; it would also tell the consumer exactly what our industry was doing every time that abuse was reported to Facility Administration.

Let's use this current situation as an opportunity to examine our protocols for conducting fair investigations. As often as these situations arise, it is only fair to our residents and employees to treat each situation equally, protecting identities and reputations instead of just looking for someone to blame.

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