ANNAPOLIS – Two former Anne Arundel County nursing home employees who were fired for neglecting an ailing patient must pay back unemployment benefits they received as a result, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled.
The Wednesday decision reverses an earlier ruling by the Court of Special Appeals that said Barbara Hider and Virginia White would have had to be intentionally negligent to be barred from receiving unemployment.
The high court ruled that the nurses’ “poor judgment” was enough to disqualify them from receiving benefits, regardless of their intention. It ordered them to repay the benefits, which the nurses’ attorney estimated at $3,000 total.
The attorney for the nurses said the high court’s decision will make it easier for employers to fire workers without worrying about paying benefits.
“It permits employers and hearing examiners to discharge professionals for mere differences of opinion which are ruled to be `misconduct,'” even when the employees were just trying to do their job, said Frank Hider Jr., the brother-in-law of Barbara Hider.
On Oct. 6, 1994, nurses Hider and White were on duty at the North Arundel Nursing and Convalescent Center when a 69-year-old, chronically ill patient began having chest pains.
According to three witnesses, the patient’s condition was announced in a page that reached Hider and White in the multipurpose room where they were preparing for an office bridal shower.
Sandra Osborne, an activities director at the nursing home, testified that the two nurses reacted indifferently to the call.
“We’ll get the food out of the car, and then we’ll dial 911 when we get back,” Osborne quoted White as saying. She testified that White and Hider then laughed and left the building.
But Hider and White remembered the incident differently.
They said they never heard the page and that they first learned of the patient’s distress from Robin Anderson, the nurse responsible for the patient, who they met in a nearby hallway.
They said they told Anderson to tend to the patient and then left the building for five minutes, visiting the patient when they returned. By that time, someone else had called 911.
But Anderson testified that when she met Hider and White — her superiors — in the hallway, she advised them that they should call 911.
The patient recovered from the incident without permanent harm.
Hider and White were fired the day after the incident and applied for and received unemployment compensation. That sparked a round of appeals by the nursing home and the nurses, with courts alternately reversing one another until the case reached the high court.
The nurses have since found jobs elsewhere.
Frank Hider said the Court of Appeals virtually ignored key testimony of one the nurses’ superiors, who said he had told the nurses through Anderson that the patient did not need emergency care.
“I don’t know where they get the hacks on the [Maryland Court of Appeals], but these guys are ridiculous,” said Hider.
Andrew Auerbach, the assistant attorney general who tried the case, said he was “pleased” by the court’s decision.