A whistleblower at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) alleges that almost a dozen workers who screened coronavirus evacuees from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, lacked the proper training or protective gear to handle infection control adequately. A whistleblower complaint filed Wednesday with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) alleges HHS did not follow the necessary safety protocols needed to limit exposure to the employees and the public. The complaint also states that there was no consistency in the testing of DHH workers for the virus to stem further infection.
The anonymous whistleblower noted that when staff raised safety concerns, they were “admonished” for “decreasing staff morale.” The whistleblower claims that HHS officials retaliated against her for raising these concerns by improperly reassigning her. She filed a whistleblower complaint with OSC seeking federal protection from retaliation. Ari Wilkenfeld, a lawyer representing the whistleblower, told CNN: “This matter concerns HHS’s response to the coronavirus, and its failure to protect its employees and potentially the public. The retaliatory efforts to intimidate and silence our client must be opposed.”
Reassignment, demotion, or dismissal are all common forms of retaliation against whistleblowers. According to a study from the Bradley University Center for Cybersecurity, 69% of the interviewed whistleblowers lost their jobs or experienced forced retirement.
A spokeswoman for the HHS stated that they were evaluating the complaint and that they, “take all whistleblower complaints very seriously and are providing the complainant all appropriate protections under the Whistleblower Protection Act.”
The OSC confirmed that it received the whistleblower complaint and that it is looking into the allegations.