2012-09-20 / Local & State

Nurse Claims Pa. Jail Firing For Whistleblowing



PITTSBURGH (AP) – A registered nurse has sued the Allegheny County Jail and a related nonprofit that provides inmate medical services, claiming she was fired for complaining about the treatment not given to an inmate who later died, among other issues.

The fired nurse, Sherry Anderson, 44, of Bellevue, contends in the 20-page federal lawsuit, that she was told she was fired in June for smoking outside the jail. But Anderson contends other employees do that and the smoking issue was a pretext to fire her for complaining about the medical issues.

County spokeswoman Amie Downs declined comment Monday, and officials with Allegheny Correctional Health Services did not immediately respond to a call for comment. But the agency’s chief operating officer, Dana Phillips, who is also being sued, released a statement to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which first reported the lawsuit. The statement said Anderson “was terminated for violations of work rules and went through a progressive disciplinary process.’’

Anderson, who is seeking at least $500,000 in damages, instead claims she was wrongly fired and suffered retaliation for whistleblowing and free speech, after complaining about various issues, including the May death of Derek Black.

Anderson said Black was put in solitary confinement after a fight and was coughing up blood from a punctured lung. Anderson claims she put Black on a “priority’’ list and that guards also requested medical attention “but still, medical attention was refused and no one came to see him.’’

Anderson contends another nurse who she described in the lawsuit as “so lazy she will not walk to pass her meds from cell to cell, but instead scoots around on a chair with wheels’’ also refused to see Black. A medical assistant who finally saw Black determined the inmate was “faking’’ and he wasn’t properly examined for at least another day, Anderson contends, at which time he was sent to the hospital.

Black suffered cardiac arrest in the emergency room and later died in intensive care, according to the lawsuit. Black’s death certificate says he died of natural causes, specifically hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy – which is brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen, in this case caused by his cardiac arrest, according to the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office.

The jail, which hired a new warden last week, has been criticized for a higher mortality rate than other large county jails, first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in recent months. The jail also had problems being accredited last year due to questions about the way medical staff dispensed drugs to inmates and other issues.

Anderson’s lawsuit contends she worked on Nov. 8-9, the two days immediately following an inspection by one accrediting agency, the National Commission on Correctional Care. Anderson claims she received a report from another nurse that “the inspection was not going to finish because intake and provisions to mental health inmates were so below standards that the NCCHC (the accreditation agency) was going to leave and fail the prison on health grounds.’’

Anderson contends Phillips asked for another chance and made the jail infirmary staff hide expired medications in biohazard boxes so inspectors would not find them.

Anderson also contends she was suspended for three days for mistakenly giving one inmate two Vicodin painkilling tablets instead of one, when, Anderson claims, the jails policy calls for verbal and written warnings first. Anderson claims other workers who wrongly dispensed medicines weren’t disciplined as severely as she was.

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