Jury Finds That Whistleblower Was Fired for Participating in State Investigation of Nursing Home and Awards Her $705,000

Jul 14, 2011, 14:12 ET from Miller Cohen, P.L.C.

DETROIT, July 14, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- On July 13, 2011, a jury rendered its verdict in Williamson v. Ciena Healthcare Management and G&K Management d/b/a Omni Continuing Care.  The jury found that the Defendants fired Plaintiff, Elizabeth Williamson, because she participated in a Michigan Department of Community Health investigation of serious infractions of state law.  The jury returned a verdict totaling $705,000 which included $126,000 in back pay and benefits, $329,000 in future lost pay and benefits, and $250,000 in damages for mental and emotional anguish, humiliation, anxiety, and depression.  The case was litigated before the Honorable Jeanne Stempien in Wayne County Circuit Court.  

Ms. Williamson was a respiratory therapy manager for the facility.  The MDCH instituted a complaint investigation that resulted in immediate jeopardy citations for several incidents.  These citations included the failure to monitor a patient that did not eat.  The patient was then given insulin, which caused hypoglycemia.  The resident was found dead that night by an outside lab technician who found the nurse sleeping.  The nurse and her supervisors falsified the nursing notes to show that she checked on the resident.  Another citation involved the failure to supervise a patient that was pulling his tracheostomy out and later died.  Another citation involved the failure to assess a resident in respiratory distress due to the improper dosage of narcotics.  Another citation involved a nurse who tied a resident to a bed with a bed sheet and a gown.

The MDCH found that the management in the nursing department was failing to train the staff, was not staffing the facility sufficiently to care for residents, was not holding nurses accountable for the harm they were causing residents, were directing nurses to falsify nursing notes, and were not monitoring their staff appropriately.

The state investigator testified that Ms. Williamson was the only manager that was straight with her.  She testified that Ms. Williamson provided honest and accurate information where all of the other managers were attempting to hinder the investigation or were evasive.

After the MDCH completed its investigation, which did not involve any violations relating to the respiratory therapy department, Ms. Williamson was terminated.

Ms. Williamson's Attorney Robert D. Fetter stated, "This verdict rights a wrong.  Ms. Williamson is a hero. She put the health and safety of the most vulnerable members of our society over the financial interests of her employer and frankly her own interests because she knew she could lose her job for assisting the investigation.  We need employees like Ms. Williamson working in nursing homes to speak for our sick and elderly family members who often cannot speak for themselves.  Hopefully, this verdict results in better care for all residents in Michigan nursing homes by emboldening whistleblowers to speak up against neglect and abuse."

This is not the first incident where a Ciena facility has had issues with the law.  In 2007, the Michigan Attorney General announced a $1.25 million settlement with Ciena resolving allegations of health care fraud.  In 2008, The Ann Arbor News reported that the MDCH was closing its Ann Arbor of Riverview facility due to its failure to come into compliance with federal law.

Attorneys Robert D. Fetter and Ada Verloren of Miller Cohen P.L.C. litigated this case on behalf of Plaintiff, Ms. Williamson.  Karen Berkery and Lori Adamcheski of Kitch Drutchas, Wagner, Valitutti, and Sherbrook litigated this case on behalf of Defendants, Ciena Healthcare Management and G&K Management d/b/a Omni Continuing Care.

SOURCE Miller Cohen, P.L.C.