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Nurse Fired by HCA After 20yrs - Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Filed

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by Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Advice Column) Writer Innovator Expert

Nurse Beth has 30 years experience as a MSN and specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho.

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Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Filed after 20-Year HCA Employee Fired

Julie Stephens had worked in the ED at an HCA owned facility for 20 yrs when she was fired on what she says was a trumped-up charge

Nurse Fired by HCA After 20yrs - Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Filed

It's hard to imagine what it must feel like to work for an organization for 20yrs, and then be fired. Not only fired, but fired on allegedly trumped-up charges. According to Becker's Hospital Review, Julie Stephens, RN, an ED nurse, was fired after 20 yrs of employment for "trying to help a patient with mental health issues escape".

Julie Stephens worked in the Emergency Department of Portsmouth Regional Hospital in New Hampshire. Portsmouth is owned by HCA Health Services, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. HCA is a for-profit organization that owns upwards of 300 healthcare facilities.

Trying to help a patient with mental health issues who was being involuntarily committed to escape is an odd charge and the New Hampshire Board of Nursing did not lend it credence. In hopes of sanctioning Julie Stephens' nursing license, the complaint was reported to the New Hampshire Board Of Nursing, where it was dismissed. 

Julie was guilty of reporting unsafe staffing conditions and clearly the administration wanted her silenced.  Portsmouth Regional ED was chronically overcrowded and understaffed, allegedly resulting in a patient death. According to Julie, a patient with cardiac symptoms presented to the ED for help. Instead of being seen immediately and screened with an EKG, the patient was not screened, was not treated, was not seen, and died after waiting more than half an hour.

At Portsmouth Regional ED, lunch breaks were rare and understaffing was the norm. Julie tried repeatedly to advocate for safer staffing, making her concerns known to her Director,  to no avail. In October of 2018, Julie wrote a letter to the Chief Executive Officer, Dean Carucci.

Here's the timeline:

  • In June of 2018, a new Director of Emergency Services was hired. Was Julie hopeful that things would now change? Instead, RN turnover rate increased, according to Julie.
  • In October of 2018, Julie wrote a letter to the CEO. Did Julie believe she could appeal to his humanity? That maybe he just didn't know about the unsafe conditions in his ED? If he did know, surely he would ensure safe staffing, right?
  •  In early 2019, Julie was accused of aiding a patient with mental health issues to escape.
  • In February 2019, days after the accusation, Julie Stephens was fired.

Julie has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit. According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, "The lawsuit alleges wrongful termination, malicious prosecution and violation of a law that protects whistleblowers, according to the report."

Not surprisingly, the hospital has defended its actions and denies any wrongdoing. Portsmouth hospital spokesman, Lynn Robbins, says they are "comfortable" with the firing of Julie Stephens and the hospital claims it acted in "good faith".

Will other nurses at Portsmouth Regional or any HCA owned facility feel free to speak up? It's doubtful. Likewise, it's likely that managers and directors are in an environment where they are not able to advocate for patients and nurses.

Was Julie  terminated for good reason? That's doubtful as well. It seems if the only thing they could charge her with was the "helping a patient escape" charge, then she must have been a really good employee.

What about the symptomatic cardiac patient who died after 30 minutes, untreated? Portsmouth Regional Hospital is a Chest Pain Center accredited by the Society of Chest Pain Centers. Healthcare professionals  are taught "time is muscle". Heart muscle. What happened at triage to delay this patient's care? Thirty minutes is enough time to screen, get to Cath Lab, and inflate the balloon during angioplasty.

There are so many questions and we don't have all the answers, but on the face of it, Julie Stephens was fired because she persistently spoke up about unsafe staffing. How is that wrong?

Best wishes, 

Nurse Beth

Author, "Your Last Nursing Class: How to Land Your First Nursing Job"...and your next!

Hi! Nice to meet you! I love helping new nurses in all my various roles. I work in a hospital in Staff Development, and am a blogger and author.

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30 minutes ago, Nurse Beth said:

There are so many questions and we don't have all the answers, but on the face of it, Julie Stephens was fired because she persistently spoke up about unsafe staffing. How is that wrong?

Don't you mean "how is that NOT wrong"?

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Snatchedwig has 11 years experience as a ADN, CNA, LPN, RN and specializes in Medsurg.

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I would be on CNN,  FOX,  Bay news 9, telemundo, the shopping channel, and Hulu having a fit.  No ma'am HCA would be paying for a new purse. 

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klone has 13 years experience as a MSN, RN and specializes in Women's Health/OB Leadership.

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I posted this same article last week. 

 

Edited by klone

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From experience, all HCA administrations are garbage (collectively). There may be a few decent ones but for the most part this is SOP for HCA.

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Emmasmom03 has 3 years experience and specializes in Transition nursing and couplet care.

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Nothing HCA does would surprise me.

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I worked for a Lifepoint facility which is also affiliated woth HCA. Myself and another nurse who had been employed there for 20 plus years were terminated as well over trumped up charges after we had repeatedly reported unsafe work conditions along with staffing with a skeletal crew. In fact they didnt have the decency to fire us in person. They called us at home and fired us over the phone. Both of us had recently had excellent evaluations and were very much respected by our peers and physicians we worked with. I even went to the HR department and asked to see my personnel file, not a single thing on my firing was included. This company and lifepoint are dirty dirty

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klone has 13 years experience as a MSN, RN and specializes in Women's Health/OB Leadership.

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LifePoint is not affiliated with HCA. They are competitors. 

Edited by klone

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At one point they were together, i worked at the hospital before it became affiliated with lifepoint and it was an absolute wonderful place to work. We had been warned by countless MDs that when they were part of HCA they learned all their dirty tricks which apparently they did. I had been an OB nurse on that unit for years along with my co worker. I can tell you honestly before this certain director who didn't  have a single bit of OB experience was put in the position our unit had absolutely zero turnover. In the 4 years she was there 28 nurses left. We were a unit that staffed around 15 nurses, so that is a huge turnover. There were days that i would have 2 laboring patients on pitocin and then 10 to 12 patients on top of that throughout the day through triage . Numerous times expressed that it wasn't safe or within AWHONN guidelines

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OncologyCat has 2 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in Medical Hematology/Oncology/Stem Cell Transplant.

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I’m from New Hampshire. The for-profit hospitals in the Portsmouth region is notorious for unsafe working conditions. We have so many pt and staff transfers to our facility in northern NH from Portsmouth, and almost all of them have nothing good to say about Portsmouth Regional Hospital.

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Jory has 10 years experience as a MSN, APRN, CNM.

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7 hours ago, Rebecca L Bailey said:

I worked for a Lifepoint facility which is also affiliated woth HCA. Myself and another nurse who had been employed there for 20 plus years were terminated as well over trumped up charges after we had repeatedly reported unsafe work conditions along with staffing with a skeletal crew. In fact they didnt have the decency to fire us in person. They called us at home and fired us over the phone. Both of us had recently had excellent evaluations and were very much respected by our peers and physicians we worked with. I even went to the HR department and asked to see my personnel file, not a single thing on my firing was included. This company and lifepoint are dirty dirty

Of course there wasn't anything in your personal file. How did you expect them to make up a story later that you just quit or just never showed up for work?  

Sometimes they protect themselves better by not documenting anything.  If I wanted to do things dishonestly, that is what I would do.

So sorry this happened to you.  We have the same thing going on in the hospital where I am a provider and I have also filed complaints about how there isn't enough staffing.  

The L&D staffing is sometimes so low that when there is a c-section it only leaves one person on the floor.  More than once I have had only one nurse to assist me during a delivery.  No problem if everything is A-OK with mom and baby...but that doesn't leave enough hands if something goes wrong with either.  

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osceteacher has 15 years experience and specializes in Practice educator.

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15 hours ago, Nurse Beth said:

HCA is a for-profit organization 

 

🤮🤮🤮🤮

What happens when your focus is money and not care (I know they're obviously linked but still).

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