When Kathyleen Sherrod arrived at her part-time job as a nursing assistant at Signature HealthCare of Palm Beach, a 120-bed nursing home off Lake Worth Road near Greenacres on the day after Hurricane Irma swept through South Florida, she was very concerned about the conditions in the Nursing Home.

Dozens of elderly residents were sweltering in the heat as there was no air conditioning. The power was knocked out and the nursing home generator wasn’t strong enough to power the airconditioning for its residents.

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On Sept. 12, Sherrod said she arrived to work and was hit by an “instant wall of heat.’’ She said the Nursing Home Administrator told her nursing home officials had “called everyone, even the governor’s office. Trust me, everyone knows we need power.”

Sherrod said she saw “numerous patients lying in beds in their underwear only.”

“Relatives sat beside their loved ones with wet cloths on foreheads, hand-fanning and looking miserable. It was like walking through a war zone hospital ward,” she said. “When I got home, I sat on my sofa and cried. My heart broke for all of them, especially those without family advocates to at least bring them fans and wet their heads.”

When she woke up Sept. 13, she said she “resolved to do everything I could to get help.’’ Kathyleen made pleas on several Facebook Pages. She added comments like this: “Its patients, the staff are suffering… They’ve been without power for three days… PLEASE. These poor patients are having to deal with pure misery on top of their physical condition. HURRY. I thought nursing homes were priorities?’’

On Sept. 13, she said, industrial mist fans were brought in for temporary relief along with portable fans brought by family members of residents. And by Sept. 14, power was restored.

When Sherrod arrived for work on the 15th of September she was shocked to find out that she was being fired. Kathyleen’s supervisor told her that she had violated a policy prohibiting Signature HealthCare employees from making social media comments that put the company in “an unfavorable light” by her posts on Facebook and for that reason, she was being let go.

On Sept. 15, the website for Signature HealthCare of Palm Beach posted “An Important Message to Our Community about Hurricane Irma,” which included: “Our generators functioned as they should have to provide necessary power to our buildings.”

The nursing home had “a solid hurricane plan in place” and the staff worked “tirelessly around the clock to keep everyone safe and as comfortable as possible – and we succeeded!” Peggy King, vice president of communications for Signature Healthcare said in an email to The Palm Beach Post.

Basically, Signature HealthCare feels that Kathyleen’s pleas for help on Social Media put the company in a bad light. I suppose they have a point to a certain extent – we all know the types of comments that can get going on Social Media. I am sure there were comments attacking the company on Kathyleen’s posts but is firing Kathyleen really the best course of action?

Despite Signature Health’s claims that their “generators functioned as they should have” friends and relatives who checked on loved ones at the nursing home in the early days after the hurricane supported Kathyleen’s claims that the airconditioning wasn’t functioning in parts of the building occupied by elderly residents. One such Visitor, Mark Sandy, told the Palm Beach Post “It was extremely hot and humid. It was rough to see elderly people in those conditions. The staff was working their butts off to make them comfortable. They deserve credit. The problem is they didn’t have sufficient equipment.”

Asked if she would fight the termination and try to get her job back Kathyleen stated  “My preference has been to work within Signature to make things better, but by being terminated, I’ve been liberated from the employee manual and can now work on the outside to, maybe, make changes — for better — far beyond patients at Signature.’’

“I would do it again, I’m not the kind of person who is going to see that kind of suffering and do nothing. It really broke my heart. These patients mean something to me. That’s why I went on Facebook because, really and truly anymore, you have to go to social media where somebody may do something and be able to help.’’ was Kathyleen’s answer when she was asked if she would do it again.

 It is an interesting dilemma with this case. The policy prohibiting Signature Healthcare workers from making social media comments that put the company in a bad light is clearly spelled out in the employee handbook. So if you go by the book the company is correct in terminating Kathyleen. Should Kathyleen have just left it and not tried to find help? Did her posts actually help with resolving the problem? If she did not intentionally try to put Signature Health in a bad light but was genuinely trying to find some help for the patients, is what she has done still wrong? These are all questions that should be discussed because this is something that could happen to anyone….
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