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Nurse said whistle-blowing led to firing

Lawsuit alleges Mercy’s birth center critically understaffed

A veteran registered nurse at Mercy Regional Medical Center has sued the hospital, alleging she was fired for repeatedly expressing concern about understaffing and poor morale in the Family Birth Center.

Deborah Patterson, who worked at the hospital from August 1988 to September 2011, wants her job back.

She also asks for benefits she failed to receive, monetary compensation for mental anguish – the amount to be determined by a jury – and legal fees.

Patterson also wants a judgment saying the defendants violated a state law forbidding retaliation against registered health-care workers for expressing concern about patient safety and quality of care.

The defendants are Mercy and its parent organization, Centura Health Corp.

Mercy spokesman David Bruzzese said Monday the hospital hasn’t been served notice of the lawsuit, and he declined further comment.

Patterson declined to comment. Denver attorney John R. Olsen, who represents her, didn’t return a phone call.

Documents in 6th Judicial District Court in Durango outline a chronology of Patterson’s complaints about what she said were staffing levels in the Family Birth Center that put patients in danger.

Patterson brought the issue to the fore at least eight times starting in December 2009. She registered her concerns with her supervisors, the human resources department, the directors of ministry at Mercy and Centura, Centura CEO Gary Campbell and a Centura attorney.

The concerns were expressed personally, by telephone or in writing.

In July 2010, Patterson complained that staffing was critically low, and the next month she reported that co-workers were “frightened” by the staffing level.

In July, she was called in during an emergency, Patterson said. The center had two nurses to care for eight patients, four of them in labor.

Staffing was adequate in February and from May through July 2011, Patterson says.

“But near the end of July another crisis unfolded when staffing was too low to ensure patient safety,” Patterson said. “Management left town, knowing the problem. The charge nurse could not call in enough staff.”

Patterson had been placed on a “performance plan,” a type of discipline, by the time she was fired Sept. 12, 2011.

During her tenure at Mercy, management assured employees there would be no retaliation for reporting safety concerns, Patterson said.

Employees also were told the only discipline imposed would be for cause, Patterson said.

daler@durangoherald.com

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