By mmarcotte51/via Flickr

By Shawn Kennedy, AJN editorial director

We have a wonderful librarian here at AJN who is always on the alert for news about nursing and nurses. Recently she sent me a clipping about a legal case, Chaney v. Plainfield Healthcare Center in Indiana’s Court of Appeals, which has important ramifications for nurses. The court ruled in favor of Brenda Chaney, a certified nursing assistant, and reversed the decision of the lower court that had ruled in favor of the Plainfield Healthcare Center nursing home.

Brenda Chaney brought suit against the nursing home for complying with a resident’s request not to have any black health care workers provide care or enter her room, and leaving her in the care of her automated medical alert system. (She also claimed her firing had been racially motivated. The court agreed that it seemed discriminatory.) The court agreed with Chaney that by acceding to the patient’s wishes, her employer created a hostile workplace and violated her rights. The nursing home claimed it was protecting the patient’s rights and that not doing so “risked violating state and federal laws that grant residents the rights to choose providers, to privacy, and to bodily autonomy.” The court did not agree. The crux of the decision is this:

“In any event, Indiana’s regulations do not require Plainfield to instruct its employees to accede to the racial preferences of its residents. The regulations merely require Plainfield to allow residents access to health-care providers of their choice. 410 IND. ADMIN. CODE 16.2-3.1-3(n)(1). If a racially-biased resident wishes to employ at her own expense a white aide, Indiana law may require Plainfield to allow the resident reasonable access to that aide. But the regulations do not say that a patient’s preference for white aides that Plainfield employs trumps Plainfield’s duty to its employees to abstain from race-based work assignments.”

I can’t believe this has been the only case of such discriminatory patient assignments—and wonder if nurses elsewhere have dealt with similar situations.

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(Editor’s note: For a little more context, here’s a San Francisco Chronicle story that gets at the role the patients’ rights movement may have inadvertently played in determining the nursing home’s approach.-JM)