“Telling the Truth Was A Lifesaving Act” Whistleblower of the Week: Jhonna Porter

Jhonna Porter did not know what a whistleblower was or what it meant when it was her time to tell the truth. She was not looking for the label, did not even know whether it was a good thing or a bad thing. She only knew that she had to speak up and that telling the truth was a lifesaving act in her profession.

Porter was born in a small town, Moorpark, California. She was a tomboy, who rode horses, went camping, and spent several years in the Girl Scouts. Porter admitted she was not the best student in school, but she was a bright child who did not apply herself to academia growing up.

Porter’s mother was very outspoken and was not afraid to say what was on her mind. Porter stated that her “lack of filter“ probably came from her mother. Her father was more reserved and careful of his words. The one thing that stood out about her dad was that he did not let people take advantage of him. Both parents are proud of Jhonna and support her whistleblowing.

After high school, Porter became an EMT and worked in a hospital emergency room. Porter had a daughter, and went to college, raising her daughter with help from her mother. She put herself through nursing school at Moorpark College. She had to wait two years to get accepted into the nursing program, and after she graduated, she applied to a hospital who gave her a job right away. HCA Healthcare ran that hospital, and subsequently runs the hospital Porter works in today. HCA Healthcare is one of the top for-profit businesses in America.

Porter has worked many years in the medical profession, and currently is employed by West Hills Hospital, as a Relief Charge Nurse. She works a full schedule and replaces the Regular Charge Nurse when they are absent.

Porter’s whistleblower journey started when hospital administrators started transferring COVID patients to her floor. The staff had not been given any training in COVID, they did not have the proper Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), and they were not prepared. The first COVID patient was in respiratory distress, and some staff were concerned about even entering the room. There was a closed Facebook page that was run by the nurses on Porter’s floor. It was a closed group, accessible only by 42 nurses. There were no N95 masks available for the nurses, and regular and COVID patients were being mixed together, and it “was a mess.”

Porter posted on the closed Facebook page what rooms were holding COVID patients, as her concern was the safety of her staff and non-COVID patients who remained on the floor with comorbidity problems. Porter, who knows the rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), never posted anything that violated HIPAA. Porter also published a plea for any PPE equipment on her personal Facebook page, as they were not receiving any from the hospital.

One or two weeks later, Porter was advised she was being suspended and had to attend a meeting with her superiors. Porter called the union, and the following day, with her union representative, presented herself to an administrator and hospital lawyer. The private Facebook postings were presented to Porter, and they asked if she wrote them. Porter responded that she did. They accused her of HIPAA violations, and Porter responded that there were no violations as no names were ever involved. They asked her about her personal Facebook request for PPE equipment, and Porter pointed out that it was reasonable since the hospital had no N95 masks for the nurses. They then asked Porter why the employees needed to know that patients had COVID, and she responded it was a safety issue because “COVID kills people.”

Porter was advised the hospital was doing an investigation, and she was suspended. For ten days, she was “ghosted” and heard nothing from the hospital. Porter learned there was another employee who had also been suspended for complaining about the lack of PPE. Porter felt the staff was being punished for bringing the lack of training and equipment to light.

Later, the hospital told Porter she had to visit HR, under the penalty of insubordination if she refused. Upon reporting to HR, she was told they had determined she had violated HIPAA and had improper contact with the media. Porter had appeared earlier on Dr. Phil and in newspapers concerning the lack of PPE and the hospital’s response to those shortages. Porter was told the hospital was not going to punish her. They then asked why she did not say good things about the hospital to the media. Porter was in shock, because she could not understand why the hospital administration were not addressing the issue, and instead were asking her to say nice things about them to the media.

Porter has been harassed since her whistleblowing. She is not being scheduled as a Relief Charge nurse anymore. Porter received a copy of an internal memo by management detailing that people in the hospital who refused to work in an unsafe environment could be terminated. Porter feels she has been targeted and is afraid of being fired. Porter is always on edge, is walking on eggshells, and feels she cannot make any mistakes as the hospital is looking to fire her for making them look bad. Before this happened, there was talk of a promotion for Porter, and although she has never had any write-ups or bad reviews, that is changing.

Porter is married and has two daughters. She is concerned about losing her benefits, which causes anxiety, as it appears the hospital is getting ready to fire her. “They made me feel like I did something wrong. Everyone is afraid to speak up because they saw what happened to me.” Porter stated, “I do not want the label of whistleblower on my shoulders, that is not what I was looking to do.” Porter said she was looking to protect her nurses and patients, and she worries about how small her voice is against a billion-dollar company.

Porter now has a label of a whistleblower, and she ponders, “Is it a good thing or a bad thing? It looks like a double-edged sword.”

Porter’s parents raised her to speak up for herself, and when she sees something that is not right, she has to say something. Porter stated, “I do not have the best self-esteem, but I know when I should speak up.” Porter also said, “Can you imagine if [nurses] all get COVID because they’re not being protected by their hospitals, and being suspended for speaking up?”

Due to the retaliation and harassment that Porter is undergoing, she hired legal counsel.

“Telling the truth,” said Porter, “is a lifesaving act.”

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