This N.J. nurse says he was fired for speaking out about safety. He’s fighting to reclaim his job
Taken from NJ.com
By Spencer Kent
May 24, 2021
Adam Witt, a union leader and nurse at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, was fired in April 2020. He is fighting to get his job back. The flyers were posted at the hospital’s security stations, warning guards to watch for Adam Witt.
His bearded face graced the notice as if it were a wanted poster. It alerted staff that Witt was “not allowed on (the) property” at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. And the flyer instructed anyone who spotted the registered nurse and local union president to contact a supervisor “immediately.”
The Neptune hospital was engulfed by the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, just like every other medical facility in New Jersey. Yet Witt — suspended but still employed at the medical center — suddenly was unwelcome.
“I had coworkers who were texting me because … it happened on April 1. And so they thought it was an April Fool’s Day thing,” Witt told NJ Advance Media. “That’s sort of how I found out that there were flyers there.”
The nurse, who questioned safety protocols as COVID-19 raged and shared his concerns on social media, was fired a few days later. His dismissal made national headlines and sent shockwaves through the state’s medical community. In the midst of a full-blown public health crisis, some viewed his termination as retribution for speaking up about critical safety issues in a pandemic.
Thirteen months later, Witt, 44, is still fighting to reclaim his job.
“I think, obviously, you don’t have to read between the lines…” the Ocean Grove resident said. “I had been a very, very vocal advocate for PPE protections.”
However, Hackensack Meridian Health, the hospital system that operates Jersey Shore University Medical Center, has a different view of events.
Last year, it said Witt “abandoned his shift” at the height of the pandemic, when he was needed most. Hackensack Meridian Health informed the nurse it was firing him for insubordination after he took an “unauthorized” day off to defend a fellow nurse at a disciplinary hearing, Witt says.
A spokesman for the health system said in an email that it does not comment on active arbitrations. However, it had plenty to say about Witt last June in a statement to NJ Advance Media.
“Our doctors and nurses are soldiers fighting a war,” a spokeswoman for Hackensack Meridian Health said in an email. “Adam Witt abandoned his shift. He was terminated because he went AWOL, not for the ‘reasons’ now being suggested by him or his surrogates. At all times — but especially during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis — his first responsibility should have been to the patients at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.”
Witt works as an agency nurse while he awaits a final arbitration hearing, the apparent end of a long process after he filed a grievance. An arbitrator is expected to decide next month if he will get his job back at the hospital and if he is owed back pay and benefits.
He would be “made whole,” as he termed it, if the arbitrator rules in his favor.
Friction had been building in March 2020 between some health care workers and the hospital, just weeks after the first coronavirus case emerged in New Jersey.