Background: In 2007 and 2008, 115 patients were found to be either certainly or presumptively infected with the hepatitis C virus through the reuse of contaminated medication vials at two southern Nevada endoscopy clinics. A subsequent joint investigation by federal and state agencies found multiple breaches of infection control protocols. There was also strong anecdotal evidence that among clinic staff, unsafe patient care conditions often went unreported because of a general fear of retaliation. At the request of the Nevada legislature's Legislative Committee on Health Care, a study was conducted to examine Nevada RNs' experiences with workplace attitudes toward patient advocacy activities. This article presents the study findings and reviews how one public health tragedy led to the creation of effective health care policy.
Methods: A study questionnaire was developed and tested for reliability and validity. Questionnaires were then sent to an initial sample of 1,725 Nevada RNs, representing 10% of all RNs in the Nevada State Board of Nursing database with active licenses and current Nevada addresses.
Results: The response rate was modest at 33% (564 respondents). Of those who responded, 34% indicated that they'd been aware of a patient care condition that could have caused harm to a patient, yet hadn't reported it. The most common reasons given for nonreporting included fears of workplace retaliation (44%) and a belief that nothing would come of reports that were made (38%).
Conclusions: The study findings underscore the need for a shift in organizational culture toward one that encourages clear and open communication when patient safety may be in jeopardy. These findings were ultimately used to support the passage of whistleblower protection legislation in Nevada.
Keywords: Las Vegas hepatitis C outbreak, patient advocacy, whistleblower.