Whistleblowers: Troublemakers or Virtuous Nurses?

Vicki D. Lachman, PhD, MBE, APRN

Disclosures

Dermatology Nursing. 2008;20(5):390-393. 

In This Article

What Legislation Provides Support to Whistle blower?

Under the 1st and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, state and local government officials are prohibited from retaliating against whistleblowers (Faunce, 2007). Federal regulations offer legislative protection for reasonable allegations of whistleblowers who acted in good faith for public interest because of a substantial and imminent threat to public good. Additionally, more than two-thirds of U.S. states have passed legislation to protect whistleblowers from retaliation (Grant, 2002). However, who is covered, what is covered, and how and when individuals are to report incidents vary from state to state (Drew & Garrahan, 2005). A person would be wise to know his or her rights and the procedures required before deciding to blow the whistle on an organization.

Two Web sites provide information, books, blogs, Internet links, and other guidance. The National Whistleblower Center is a nonprofit, tax-exempt, educational and advocacy organization dedicated to helping whistleblowers (http://whistleblowers.org/index.html). Since 1988, this organization has used whistleblowers' disclosures to improve government and corporate accountability, environmental protection, and nuclear safety. Though not specifically focused on health care, the center's Web site provides a wealth of information.

The second Web site, Freedom to Care, does have a health care component. However, it is focused on issues in Great Britain (http://www.freedomtocare.org/). A link on this Web site connects nurses and nursing students to the International Association for Nursing Ethics and information on the ethical issues involved in whistleblowing (http://www.freedomtocare.org/contents.htm#healthcare).

The False Claims Amendment Act of 1986 primarily focused on prohibiting any false claim for reimbursement to the United States, but it did include a whistleblower provision (qui tam) (http://www.taf.org/whyfca.htm). This regulation protects whistleblowers who disclose violations that involve fraudulent use of federal funds. The whistleblower can be a current or former employee, a patient, a competitor, or any person who obtains firsthand knowledge of fraudulent behavior. This person can file suit on behalf of an entity and recover 15% to 30% of any settlement. If the government wins the case, then the whistleblower could win a substantial amount of money. For example, in fiscal year 2006, the U.S. government recovered a record $3.1 billion in cases of fraud (DoBias, 2007). Tenet Healthcare Corp's $920 million settlement accounted for the largest percentage of the $2.2 billion from recoveries in health care.

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