A nurse claims she was fired from a Norwood Park senior home in retaliation for whistleblowing about COVID-19 safety issues, according to a lawsuit.
Andrea Hinich, a military veteran, alleges she was fired a day after bringing up safety lapses in a safety meeting at her workplace, Norwood Crossing, 6016 N. Nina Ave., according to a lawsuit filed May 20 in Cook County Circuit Court.
She was fired April 22 for “insubordination” after refusing to take part in a plan to distribute personal protective equipment, or PPE, to staff without required “fit testing,” the suit states. Fit testing, a federally required safety rule, is the process of testing PPE on someone to determine the person knows the right size PPE they require, and that they know how to wear it properly.
Administration allegedly told Hinich they “don’t have to do the fit testing” and that the PPE was being given to the staff only to “make them feel better.” The suit claims Hinich was fired without warning and given false reasons for her termination that made her the scapegoat for the safety issues she raised.
In June 2019, she was hired as the assistant nursing director at Norwood Crossing and supervised staff on the home’s fourth floor, the suit states. But during the coronavirus pandemic, Hinich’s efforts to raise safety issues were repeatedly disregarded and ignored by her supervisors, according to the suit.
Her bosses allegedly “reacted in hostile and negative ways” in response to her objections to what she pointed out was “unsafe and unlawful conduct.” Hinich allegedly pointed out several issues at the nursing home including: improper infection control, a lack of COVID-19 treatment protocols and COVID-19 training for staff.
The suit alleges her bosses believed or anticipated Hinich was disclosing the alleged safety lapses to state authorities or to the public.
The suit names Norwood Crossing Association and its parent company Norwood Life Society as defendants.
A representative of the nursing home did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.
“Healthcare workers must be free to raise safety issues without fear of retaliation,” Hinich’s attorney, Jeffrey R. Kulwin, said in a statement. “In our community, it is essential to protect people who are responsible for the safety of frontline healthcare workers, and especially the people responsible for protecting healthcare workers who care for the people who live at long-term care facilities.”
Norwood Crossing, a 130-bed facility, has seen 22 cases of coronavirus in residents and zero deaths, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. So far, fatalities in Illinois nursing homes account for half of all COVID-19 deaths in the state.
Hinich is seeking at least $100,000 in damages.