Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Monday, June 02, 2014

Burdett Care Center faces suit

Maternity nurse says she was
fired for reporting violations

Complaints arose following hospital merger during a
“culture war” between nurses at new birthing center

By David Baker
Posted Monday June 2, 2014
810 words

A registered nurse who was working in the maternity ward at Catholic-based St. Mary’s Hospital in Troy when the hospital joined with the non-religious Samaritan Hospital under a new governing board has filed a lawsuit in which she claims she was harassed, bullied and then fired for complaining that management of a new birthing unit in Samaritan Hospital had failed to follow St. Mary’s birthing practices, in violation of a state Department of Health order that was a condition of the merger.

Debra Griner’s claim names the Burdett Care Center – which is a maternity unit – and St. Peter’s Health Partners, the new body under which St. Mary’s, Samaritan and two other Capital District hospitals merged in 2011.

Griner is seeking lost earnings, compensation for emotional and physical injuries, as well punitive damages for alleged violations of several state regulations.  She also demands her job back with full benefits and seniority.

The suit says the birthing unit in St. Mary’s Hospital relied on midwives and a natural birth philosophy, while Samaritan Hospital used medical intervention and medications.  At the time of the merger, management at Northeast Health Inc. – which operates Samaritan Hospital – addressed concerns that St. Mary’s Catholic-based maternity philosophy would be abandoned by saying that a new separate unit would be opened within Samaritan Hospital.  The Burdett Care Center has its own web page that gives its address as 2215 Burdett Avenue – the same as Samaritan Hospital – but says nothing about Samaritan or St. Peter’s Health Partners.

“This case seeks to hold defendants responsible for their blatant violation of New York Labor law Section 741, a law that provides broad protection to health care workers who report actions or policies that constitute improper or inadequate care,” a document in the lawsuit says.

The suit says that as a registered nurse, Griner had an obligation to report unsafe or improper practices.

“However, when plaintiff spoke up, she was repeatedly bullied, harassed and retaliated against because she raised legitimate concerns about improper or inadequate patient care.”

The lawsuit says one of Griner’s concerns was the high number of newborn babies in the new unit that needed resuscitation.

“In plaintiff’s 26 years of nursing she hardly never witnessed a newborn resuscitation and in 8 years at St. Mary’s she never had to perform compression on a newborn,” the suit says.  “Yet, in approximately one year, she performed 5 such procedures on a newborn at Burdett.”

According to the suit, Griner brought her concern to a supervisor, questioning whether the different approach to birthing may have been a factor in the need for resuscitations.

“Plaintiff’s supervisor refused to investigate the concern.  Instead, her supervisor subjected plaintiff to intense scrutiny and oversight and continued to issue unwarranted discipline in an effort to either force plaintiff to quit or to set the stage for plaintiff’s dismissal.”

The suit says Griner was labeled “a ring leader” in a culture war between former St. Mary’s nurses and former Samaritan nurses.

According to the suit, on one occasion, an angry Samaritan technician banged a crib with a baby in it into a another crib.  Just before that, the same technician violently banged a crash cart into a wall.

Griner also complained about staffing levels at the birthing center.

“The problem with staffing levels was a chronic problem and was exacerbated by several nurses that routinely called in sick at the last minute,” the suit says. “The response to plaintiff’s complaints about nurse staffing was that plaintiff and others had to pick up the slack.’

On one occasion Griner complained that during a very busy time, another former Samaritan RN had spent a long time looking at Facebook. 

“In response to this specific complaint, plaintiff was met with a contentious supervisor who vigorously defended the Samaritan nurse (without actually investigating the concerns).”

Shortly after raising that concern, the suit says Griner was the subject of several anonymous complaints about her work, and received several threatening messages from other Samaritan nurses.

Griner claims that on one occasion a Samaritan nurse allowed a patient with a confirmed case of swine flu to roam around the maternity ward without a mask.  That compliant also was ignored.  According to the suit, Griner also reported that a patient had been upset after a Samaritan technician, who had no authority to advise any patient, had given her false medical information.

Griner was terminated in December 2012. The suit says the Burdett Care Center failed to follow its own discipline and termination policy.

Griner’s lawsuit was filed in state Supreme Court, Rensselaer County by Ryan Finn of Hacker Murphy in Latham, N.Y.  A New York City law firm, Pecker & Abramson, is representing the defendants and has denied Griner’s allegations.  The case has not yet been assigned to a judge.

A search of the area’s newspaper archives and on Google produced no mention of the lawsuit.

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