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Kaiser Nurse Blames Firing on Patient Care

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (CN) - A nurse alleges she was fired for making legitimate patient care complaints, and then refusing to cover up a related death, according to a complaint filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court.

Brenda Sue Brick sued Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc; Kaiser Foundation Hospitals; Southern California Permanente Medical Group for wrongful termination, retaliation, violation of California's Health and Safety Code and Business and Professions Code, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

When Brick was working at a new Kaiser hospital in Fontana on May 26, 2013, she was assigned to an emergency bed area where she was unable to monitor each of the patient's vital signs from a central location near her patients, because the patients' monitors were only connected to the central nursing station, "far away, down the hall and around the corner," the complaint states.

Also, the area was so isolated that a nurse assigned to work it alone would not be able to quickly get help from other nurses or doctors, in case of emergency, according to the complaint.

Brick had been told that this isolated area would only be used for "fast track" patients, those patients with less serious issues who did not need constant monitoring.

However, May 26 she saw otherwise and told the charge nurse this was dangerous and why. The charge nurse insisted Brick work under these conditions, and denied her request to be reassigned. The charge nurse then told her that patients who needed monitoring would not be sent to the isolated area "and acknowledged that these rooms were not safe," according to the complaint.

Also on May 26, the severity of plaintiff's concerns were realized - a 3-year-old girl in critical condition was placed in this remote area, and "died an easily preventable death," Brick says in her complaint.

When the 3-year-old arrived, other, more appropriate, rooms were available, but Brick's safety concerns were again unheeded. On her break, Brick complained again, and was humiliated and made to cry.

Soon after Brick returned, the 3-year-old started having problems, and Brick's cries for assistance while she was helping the child were unanswered for about 10 minutes. After two doctors had failed to intubate the patient, they refused to call a Code Blue, despite Brick's pleas. So the anesthesiologist, who was able to intubate the girl immediately, did not arrive for 45 minutes and the girl never regained consciousness.

Later, the girl was taken off life support and died.

"After plaintiff refused to lie/cover up Kaiser's inexcusable negligence, plaintiff (who had never received a poor performance evaluation over the past 4.7 years she had worked with Kaiser) was suddenly accused of sub-standard performance and terminated," the complaint states.

Prior to her patient safety complaints, Brick, a registered nurse with 15 years of experience, had received "high praise for her excellent work," including from her Kaiser supervisor, according to the complaint.

In fact, at her last performance evaluation on April 17, 2013, "plaintiff's supervisor was unable to find a single area, such as performance, knowledge, documentation, quality of service, professionalism or leadership, in which plaintiff had not met or exceeded expectations. Additionally, plaintiff's supervisor commented that plaintiff was doing a 'good job' numerous times and lauded plaintiff for 'good documentation,' being a 'good role model' to other Kaiser nurses, and being 'willing to assist others.' (Emphasis in complaint.)

Brick sues for wrongful termination, retaliation, violations of California's health and safety code and business and professions code, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The plaintiff is represented by Charles T. Mathews of The Mathews Law Group in Arcadia.

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