Under current law, a state agency or state official may not prohibit a state employee from communicating with his or her state representative or senator or require the employee to provide a record of such communication. This bill applies this provision to communications of state employees with the State Auditor.

The bill also provides "whistleblower" protections by requiring hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers licensed by the Department of Health to implement a written policy regarding employees who report facility mismanagement, fraudulent activity, and violations of applicable laws or administrative rules concerning patient care, safety, and related issues. In its primary whistleblower protection provisions, the bill:

(1) Specifies that supervisors and persons in authority at hospitals or ambulatory surgical centers may not prohibit employees from disclosing information pertaining to facility mismanagement, patient safety, or related issues;

(2) Prohibits these supervisors and persons in authority from threatening to use their authority to knowingly discriminate, penalize, dismiss, or retaliate against employees who acted in good faith to report or disclose mismanagement or other violations;

(3) Requires hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers to establish a corporate compliance program that meets the Office of Inspector General's Compliance Program guidelines and requires the department to verify that the programs adopted meet the standards established by the federal Department of Health and Human Services;

(4) Requires designation of a specific person and an alternate person for administering the reporting and investigation process and provides employees with the option of reporting anonymously;

(5) Requires hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers to notify the complaining employee within 48 hours that his or her complaint is being reviewed; and

(6) Requires investigations of reports to be completed within 30 days, with notification to the employee of the investigation's findings.

The whistleblowing provisions of the bill are effective January 1, 2001.

The bill also contains provisions related to staffing and hospital licensure, which:

(1) Require hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers to establish by July 1, 2001, a training program for all unlicensed staff who provide patient care and provide documentation of the completion of such staff training to the department;

(2) Prohibit hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers from assigning personnel who lack appropriate training and education to provide patient care;

(3) Require hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers to implement a methodology to ensure adequate staffing levels of licensed registered nurses and to have on duty on each nursing unit sufficient licensed and ancillary personnel to meet the needs of patients in accordance with accepted standards of nursing;

(3) Establish a 9-member Technical Advisory Committee on the Quality of Patient Care and Nursing Practices within the Department of Health. The committee will recommend and annually report on staffing, quality of patient care, and employment of nurses. The committee terminates on December 31, 2006;

(4) Require the department to provide support as needed to the Technical Advisory Committee;

(5) Specify intermediate sanctions the department may impose for violations of hospital and ambulatory surgical center licensure requirements, in addition to hospital closure which is currently available to the department. Appeal rights for the facilities are outlined; and

(6) Authorize the department to develop regulations in order to implement the bill's provisions.