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21 District hospital workers fired for being blizzard no-shows

By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 4, 2010

Washington Hospital Center fired eight more employees this week after they failed to show up for work during last month's crippling snowstorms. The hospital announced that it has also rehired three of the 16 workers it had terminated.

Hospital President Harrison J. Rider III announced in a letter to staff members Wednesday -- just days after he acknowledged the first round of firings -- that after a review of employees who did not make it in during the record-breaking snowstorms that hit the region between Feb. 5 and Feb. 11, it was concluded that 15 nurses and six members of the support staff should be terminated.

"While I am very pleased that we found merit in some of the cases we reviewed, we have not found any redeeming circumstances in the behavior of the others, so we are proceeding with the dismissals of 21 total associates," Rider wrote.

Representatives of the nurses' union, Nurses United of the National Capital Region, said they remain "mystified" over the firings. At least two of the terminated nurses had more than 30 years experience at the hospital. The union filed a class-action grievance with the hospital last week.

"We remain bewildered that the employer would depart from practices that go back over 30 years in how snow emergencies are handled," said the union's chief shop steward, Stephen Frum. Cheryl Peterson, director of nursing practices and policy for the American Nurses Association, said she has not heard of any other hospital in the nation taking similar action. Rider, who stayed at the hospital through both blizzards, said the number of inpatients at the facility grew from 675 to 740 during the weather emergency, when 90 babies were delivered.

"Most of us served selflessly, but some chose not to come to work and walked away from the commitment they made to the patients," he wrote. "We have continued to review each case to assure that those who shared our commitment to our patients are distinguished from those few who did not."

Hospital officials would not say how many employees faced other disciplinary actions, such as suspensions.

Daniel Fields Jr., president of SEIU 722, which represents the hospital's non-professional employees, including janitorial and clerical staff, said many members were suspended without pay for the amount of time they missed, including a legally blind man who could not get to the operating room where he works because Metro's bus service for the disabled was not running.

That man, whom Fields said he could not identify because he feared for the man's job, also could not walk to work because he's had both hips replaced. A hospital spokesman said she could not comment on individual cases.

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