Nurse sues Springfield Hospital for alleged whistleblower law violations

Anesthesia machine. Wikipedia Commons.

Anesthesia machine. Wikipedia Commons.

A nurse anesthetist is suing Springfield Hospital in federal court for allegedly violating Vermont’s whistleblower protection act.

From 2007 to 2012, Stephen Green, CRNA, alleges that he witnessed and reported numerous counts of medical malpractice in the anesthesiology department at Springfield Hospital. Green is arguing in U.S. District Court that the hospital retaliated by firing him in early 2012. He wants his job back, and he is seeking compensation for damages.

Vermont’s whistleblower protection law bars employers from retaliating against an employee when he or she “discloses or threatens to disclose to any person or entity any activity, policy, practice, procedure, action, or failure to act of the employer or agent of the employer that the employee reasonably believes is a violation of any law or that the employee reasonably believes constitutes improper quality of patient care.”

Springfield Hospital hired Green in 2006. Soon after he began, he “grew concerned over what he considered unsafe practices in the anesthesia department,” his court complaint says.

In one instance, anesthesiologist “Dr. G.W.” allowed a child operation without following the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ standard of requiring a patient to fast before anesthesiology. This practice, according to the standards, improves the effectiveness of anesthesia and reduces complications.

Green says many of G.W.’s patients were “barely breathing” when they arrived in the post-anesthesia care unit after surgery and often needed “airway interventions.”

The bulk of Green’s concerns center on anesthesiologist “Dr. A.F.” Few of the doctors’ full names were included in Green’s court complaint. Green’s attorney — Stephen Ellis of Springfield firm Ellis, Boxer and Blake — said that since the doctors are not parties to this case, he does not want them to be part of the public record. Springfield Hospital did not immediately comment.

Green alleges that while patients were under general anesthesia, A.F. would take personal calls and deal with paperwork, “such as his personal income taxes.”

Monitoring standards from the American Society of Anesthesiologists call for anesthesiologists to check vital signs at least every five minutes.

“In one instance, during administration of general anesthesia to an eight-year-old patient, no measurements were recorded on the electronic monitory for thirty minutes, and Dr. A.F. recorded normal blood pressures on his paper anesthesia record in the normal range for those same thirty minutes,” Green’s complaint says. He further claims A.F. falsified medical records many times.

After reporting A.F. to hospital management, Green said the doctor was hostile to him. And Green says the hospital never investigated any of these matters.

In early 2012, Green alleges hospital CEO Glenn Cordner discovered he was planning to inform Gov. Peter Shumlin about the issues he flagged and the hospital’s inaction — although the governor’s office has no record of Green making such contact. On March 19, 2012, Cordner fired Green “as a cost-saving measure,” court records show.

Green alleges he had the lowest salary of all anesthesia providers in the unit.

After Green was fired, he says, the hospital emailed medical staff to inform them that the hospital did not have enough anesthesiologists for emergencies. He said one obstetrics provider resigned when he was informed that he should be ready to perform cesarean sections in emergency births with only local anesthesia.

“Springfield Hospital did not communicate this shortage of anesthesia providers to its patient population,” Green alleges.

In addition to violating Vermont’s whistleblower protection law, Green is also suing Springfield for breach of contract, conspiracy to depress wages and promissory estoppel, among other charges. Civil suits, like this one, go to federal court if a party is seeking more than $75,000 in compensation.

Andrew Stein

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  • rosemarie jackowski

    This is an important case. Please keep us updated. Thanks.

  • Curtis Sinclair

    I just looked up an old article from 1994 in the NY Times called “Cost of Malpractice: A Special Report; Medical Incompetence: A Whispered Factor in Rising Costs”

    It looks like the situation has not changed in 20 years. A recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has disclosed the frequency with which surgeons are guilty of making preventable errors while in the operating room. According to the study, an average of 4,082 surgical errors that are completely preventable — referred to as “never events” — occur in American operating rooms every year.

    The situation has not changed because doctors continue to protect incompetent doctors which allows them to keep practicing. Here is a recent story from CA :”State medical board not protecting patients from incompetent doctors”

    Here is an article in WebMD: “Many Doctors Don’t Report Incompetent Colleagues. Survey Shows One-Third Don’t Blow Whistle on Peers Who Are Impaired or Incompetent”

    Patients MUST begin exposing incompetent physicians themselves by posting their stories on sites like doctorscorcard and ratemd.

  • Jay Davis

    I agree, this is an important case and should not be swept under the sofa.
    This kind of professional protections to violators by their institutions takes place far too frequently. When a single case makes it to a media outlet, you can be certain this, just the tip of the iceberg.

    Hospital administrators should be held personally liable in such cases, found to be reasonable valid.

  • alice barnham

    If a jumbo jet crashes and everyone is killed, it is big news. However, over 100,000 people are killed and over 2 million people maimed and disabled every year .. year after year in America from medical errors.

  • rosemarie jackowski

    This is just one more reason why we need a system of Medical Advocates (witnesses) to accompany patients in the hospital, especially the ER. Those without local family support are at very high risk. A system such as this could be set up at very little cost. Compassionate volunteers are needed to be ‘matched’ with those in need.

  • Joanna Estey

    I just had a problem with that very hospital. I went back in two days after an allergic reaction to an over the counter Rite Aid drug. And was sent home telling me the swollen lip, face (3x size), was “a cold sore coming on! I ended up in the ER at Dartmouth!! They are horrible. # years ago I went in on a Sunday with a sinus infection and they ran test( 11) = over $3.000 for the visit. They tested for cholesterol, thyroid, Pregnancy ( I’m 55),etc. They saw an insurance company and went to town. I demanded the tests results to look at, and they refused. So my doctor had to order them so we could look at them. At first she laughed ….but them said OH,MY this isn’t funny only one test applies to the sinus infection. 5 hrs. and no antibiotic and a $3.000 + bill. I feel they do testing like this on everyone to run the bill up. As they right off took three tubes of blood when I went in for the Allergic reaction. But when I “Questioned” why they need blood and what they were testing for they NEVER RAN ANY TEST!! They own EVERY (doctor/practice/lab) in Windsor county and I worry they (Doctors) are afraid to go up against their BOSSES!!

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