Kaiser Nurse Fired for Safety Concerns She Says
12-4-2015 00:29:00

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - A nurse claims that a Kaiser hospital fired her after she voiced concerns about cost-cutting initiatives that jeopardize patient safety and for complaining about state labor violations.

     Mercedita Desumala has been a registered nurse since 1991 and began working for Kaiser in June 2005. She filed a lawsuit against the healthcare provider in Alameda Superior Court last week, alleging she was fired from San Leandro Hospital in Oakland after complaining about the removal of monitor technicians from the hospital's fifth floor telemetry department.
     "The fifth floor ... was traditionally staffed by monitor technicians who are entrusted with the crucial job of monitoring the heart rhythms of patients on the floor," according to a 33-page complaint. "If ... irregularities are not caught, they can be extremely dangerous and often fatal for the patients. As part of a cost-saving initiative, Kaiser removed all the monitor technicians from the fifth floor of the San Leandro Hospital."
     The move puts patients at risk, according to Desumala who submitted Assignment Despite Objection forms to the California Nurses' Association. She also made verbal complaints to supervisors, specifically nurse manager Norie Bustamente.
     Desumala says Kaiser retaliated in part because administrators knew the nurses' union would send a copy of the forms to the California Department of Health Care Services and were aggravated that she kept notes about work conditions.
     "Since she was overworked, Ms. Desumala started maintaining worksheets of patients she was assigned to, in order to attempt to avoid a potentially lethal mistake," the complaint states. "[She] also kept these records because she felt the threat to patient health and safety posed a risk to her own nursing license and she wanted to have a record of her work if an issue were to arise."
     Desumala says Kaiser expected the nursing staff to pick up where the monitor technicians left off, which increased workload and forced them to go without meal and rest breaks. She says nurses were "dangerously fatigued" as a result and that they were put under the microscope for working overtime.
     "Often, when Ms. Desumala and other nurses worked overtime, Kaiser forced them to justify working these extra hours," according to the complaint. "These interrogations and requests for justifications from Kaiser would come days or weeks after the dates in question. Without her client worksheets, Ms. Desumala would not have been able to point to the specific reasons as to why she was forced to work late on a specific date."
     Desumala also complained about overwhelming patient to nurse ratios, which she says resulted in a patient falling while attempting to get out of bed, and inadequate janitorial staff, which posed serious health risks to patients and hospital staff.
     The continued complaints triggered a hailstorm of retaliation from Kaiser supervisors who accused her of "disruptive behavior" that created a "negative environment."
     Desumala says she continued to complain despite receiving unwarranted negative performance reviews and verbal harassment.
     "In response to her concern[s] ... Bustamente mocked Ms. Desumala and told her to 'take this up with administration,'" according to Desumala who claims that in December 2014 she was "accosted" by supervisors in front of co-workers in response to the complaints.
     That same month she went on leave under the California Family Rights Act to care for her husband who had been diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer.
     Kaiser unsympathetically placed her on paid administrative leave upon her return, and demanded she hand over her "work diary" that illustrated her patient safety and labor violation concerns. Desumala conceded, but was not allowed to make a copy of her notes before surrendering them.
     She was fired on March 17, 2015.
     A subsequent request for copies of her payroll records was denied.
     Kaiser reported operating revenue of $56.4 billion in 2014, operating income of $2.2 billion and a net income of $3.1 billion, according to the complaint.
     Desumala sued Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc., Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and The Permanente Medical Group for retaliation, negligent supervision and retention of employee, intentional infliction of emotional distress, failure to pay wages and wrongful termination under state law.
     She seeks general, special and punitive damages, and attorneys' fees.
     Desumala is represented by Charles Mathews, in Culver City, Calif.; and Andrew Friedman, Gregory Helmer and Priyan Chandraratna of Helmer Friedman, in Culver City.
RG15-794740