Rather, employees need only report the suspected abuse or neglect of a nursing home resident to their supervisor, coworker or a resident’s family member ‒ and not to the Ohio Director of Health ‒ in order to state a statutory claim of retaliation.
The Court’s 6-1 decision in Hulsmeyer v. Hospice of Southwest Ohio, Inc. makes it clear that long-term and residential-care facilities in Ohio may face civil liability under Ohio R.C. 3721.24 for discharging, demoting or otherwise retaliating against employees who report suspected abuse or neglect to a supervisor, coworker or a resident’s family member. The Court also clarified how courts should interpret two Ohio statutes, R.C. 3721.22 and R.C. 3721.24, which govern such reporting.
R.C. 3721.22 requires “licensed health professionals” to report suspected abuse or neglect to the Ohio Director of Health and provides immunity from both civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution to those who do report such abuse or neglect. Additionally, any other person, including residents, “may report” suspected abuse or neglect to the Director of Health. The purpose of the statute is to ensure that the Director of Health can adequately investigate, make findings and report findings of abuse or neglect to law enforcement, the Court held.
In contrast, the purpose of R.C. 3721.24 is to protect employees from retaliatory discharge for reporting suspected abuse or neglect of long-term and residential-care facilities. Importantly, the Court noted, the statute does not specifically require employees to report their suspicions to the Director of Health.
“Providing employees broader reporting options than those found in R.C. 3721.22 is consistent with the purpose of preventing retaliation against employees,” Justice Sharon L. Kennedy wrote for the majority. “Employees may be more likely to report suspected abuse or neglect to someone other than the Director of Health, such as a resident’s family member or a coworker.”
The decision allows a registered nurse, who oversaw the nursing care of terminally ill patients in a southwestern Ohio residential care facility, to pursue her statutory claim that she was fired for reporting suspected abuse or neglect of a patient to the facility and the patient’s children.