Lawsuit States ER Clinical Coordinator At HCA Hospital Was Fired For Claiming Understaffing In The ER
The New Hampshire Union Leader reports that Nurse Julie Stephens filed a lawsuit against Portsmouth Regional Hospital (HCA Health Services of New Hampshire.) According to the lawsuit, Nurse Stephens made repeated complaints about understaffing in the ER that resulted in a patient’s death. Ms. Stephens claims that she was wrongfully terminated. Her suit also claims malicious prosecution and violation of the New Hampshire Whistleblowers’ Protection Act.
(Portsmouth Regional Hospital is located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The hospital serves seacoast residents in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts.)
Nurse Stephens Lawsuit Cites Death Of Cardiac Patient Due To Understaffing In The ER
According to the lawsuit: “The safety concerns of Ms. Stephens were tragically realized in October of 2018 when a patient came to the ED seeking help for heart-related symptoms. Rather than immediately being tested with an EKG and being transferred to the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, the individual patiently waited more than half-an-hour without proper assistance until she died. Upon information and belief, the understaffing issue at Portsmouth Hospital caused or contributed to the patient not receiving timely medical care.”
Nurse Stephens Was Uniquely Qualified To Evaluate Adequacy Of Staffing Or Understaffing In The ER
At Portsmouth Regional Medical Center, Nurse Stephens held the job of ER Clinical Coordinator. Though the daily tasks of an ER Clinical Coordinator vary from hospital to hospital, the job tasks provide an in-depth view of possible understaffing in the ER. Nurse Stephens was a 20-year employee at the hospital.
Hospital’s Reason For Firing Nurse Stephens Was Dismissed By Nursing Board
Nurse Stephens claims she was fired days after the hospital made a false charge. The hospital claimed that Nurse Stephens was fired because she tried to help a mental health patient escape from the hospital. Reportedly, the patient was being processed for an involuntary hold. The hospital submitted its complaint about Nurse Stephens to the New Hampshire Board of Nursing. Upon a review of the allegations, the Nursing Board did not concur and dismissed the hospital’s complaint.
Nurse Stephens Persistently Spoke Up About Understaffing In The ER
Much like Nurse Julie Griffin’s case in Plantation, Florida, Nurse Stephens asserts that she “persistently contacted” the Emergency Services Director about the “ongoing short-staffing crisis.” Unfortunately, patients continued to experience treatment delays. Finally, Nurse Stephens claims she was told she would be terminated if she continued to complain about understaffing in the ER.
Lawsuit Claims 40-60 Patients During Night Shift With Only 23 ED Beds
According to the lawsuit: “Exacerbating the staffing shortage, Portsmouth Hospital put into place a custom and practice, if not a formal policy, of accepting any and all transfer patients. This led to approximately six to eight transfer patients in the ED a night, in addition to the typical influx of regular emergency patients that frequently exceeded the 26 Emergency Department’s capacity, even without the transfer patients. It was not uncommon for the ED to service between 40 to 60 patients at a time during the night shift,“ the suit states.
Ms. Stephens claims that patients were often placed in the hallway to accommodate transfers and overflow. Nurse Stephens claims that the patients should have been placed in proper rooms.
Nurse Stephens Notifies CEO About Staffing Problems
Nurse Stephens asserts that in October 2018 she sent a letter sharing her concerns about understaffing in the ER to the CEO, Dean Carucci.
According to Linked In, Mr. Carucci had previously been the Chief Financial Officer at Parkland Medical Center (another HCA hospital). Mr. Carucci posted on his Linked In site a list of 10 of his achievements at Parkland Regional Medical Center. Mr. Carucci placed increased profitability at the very top of his list of achievements. “The consolidated EDITDA (a measure of profitability) rose from 18.4 million in 2006 to 30.6 million in 2009.”
An obvious question arises. Is it possible that profitability was placed ahead of patient safety at Portsmouth Regional?
Portsmouth Regional Denies Allegations By Plaintiff
According to the New Hamshire Union Leader, the hospital denies the allegations of wrongful termination and understaffing. The hospital also denies that a patient died due to understaffing. The hospital, following a standard legal step, is attempting to have the court dismiss the case.
Legal Representation of Plaintiffs & Defendants