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Understaffing In The ER Claimed, ER Nurse Fired


Lawsuit States ER Clinical Coordinator At HCA Hospital Was Fired For Claiming Understaffing In The ER

Understaffing in the ERThe 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.

Understaffing in the ER
Portsmouth Regional Hospital

(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 

Understaffing in the ER
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,Understaffing in the ER 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

CEO Dean Carucci
Portsmouth Regional CEO Dean Carucci

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

Nurse Julie Stephens is represented by Manchester attorney Sean List. Portsmouth Regional is represented by Michael Messerschmidt and Matthew LaMourie of Portland, Maine.

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The big corporation always seem to have the ultimate power even in the legal system and thus patient injuries and or death are a result. Understaffing of nurses never ends well for the patient or their families.

Sharon Barber RN

Blessings on this nurse trying every avenue to advocate for her patients. Certainly institutions must maintain profitibility however vulnerable populations depend on the nursing awareness and proactive ability to go through proper channels to advocate for patient safety. Proud of Nurse Julie Stephens.

Ann Huff

As a former HCA employee and an RN, I am POSITIVE that profit over people is the reason for that patient’s death and this nurse’s termination for being a whistle blower occurred. I clearly remember running out of supplies on a regular basis and ALWAYS working short staffed. Worked on a telemetry unit and more than one weekend we were taking batteries out of the clocks in the patients’ rooms to put in our telemetry packs. JaCHO visited while I worked there and we had high hopes that they would come down on the hospital for poor staffing. Nope. I… Read more »

sad when nurses are told they are patient advocates and when you speak up for them you are fired , made an example of . “she talked back she must be punished, we will tell the public patients are our number one priority but believe me it is the almighty dollar we care about more ! ” american greed Dean Carucci. I lost my license for the same thing, cause the corrupt board of nursing is in cohoots with the money loving hospitals ! the one who testified against me ANN TOTSCH worked yuma 13 yrs , ‘as a nurse”… Read more »


As a RN from another facility, who had one of my patients sent there, I can attest to their “profit before patient”. This patient was on an expensive medication and would not have gotten said medication If we could not send what we had for this patient to the hospital. I do have proof as I had the courier sign a paper that states what the medication is, how many were sent and who the provider that ordered the medication was. When I asked the pharmacist why they couldn’t get the medication if we could he basically, “it’s very expensive”.


I worked a contract at this hospital for 4 months and was shocked with the staffing issues. Nurses on the medical floor commonly had 9 and even 10 patients under their care at night because they were almost always short by 3-4 nurses. The unit was staffed mostly by new grads who were always asking me, “is this what it’s like everywhere?” to which I gave an emphatic “No!” in response. I hope nurse Stephen’s wins this suit to bring some light to the very dangerous situation under way at Portsmouth Regional.


Former HCA RN after retiring from yhe Army…I was put on the floor after less than 2 weeks orientation due to short staffing and nearly every day it was 12+ hours of chaos and stress, never enough staff. I got to the point I was crying every day going into work. I left after a coue months. My mental and physical health was worth more than the average pay they offered. Happy at my new hospital, Never again at an HCA so their CEO can make his 27 MILLION a year. Shameful!

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