OAHU, Hawaii (CN) - Staff at a Kaiser hospital tormented a nurse over her boyfriend's suicide to try to get her to quit, in retaliation for reporting billing fraud and safety issues, she alleges in Hawaii's First Circuit Court.
Ten years after Charissa Terada began working for Kaiser as a nurse, she reported to management patterns of billing for unnecessary medical services and that she had personally witnessed billing fraud, the complaint states.
More than a year later, in December 2009, Terada's boyfriend committed suicide, prompting her to take leave until February 2010, according to the complaint.
When she came back, supervisor Joyce Gilbert gave her and six other employees the same type of crock-pot liner bag Terada's boyfriend used to kill himself, as a "gift," the complaint states.
The action prompted another leave of absence, this time from February to May 2010, and caused Terada to seek psychiatric help, the complaint states.
Terada says the act was intentional.
"Defendants were aware that plaintiff was already fragile ... and aware of this attendant circumstance when they commenced an intentional campaign of malicious actions against plaintiff through the use of the crock pot liner bag ... the actions were done with evil intent and ill will towards plaintiff," the complaint says.
The campaign of "harassment and retaliation" intensified when Terada again reported the Medicare/Medicaid fraud upon her return, the complaint states. She reported the issues to Chief Physician Joyce Nakamura and compliance officers Mert Gambino and Patty Lee. She says she reported the alleged harassment and retaliation to the hospital's CEO and other senior leadership, explaining why it was happening and that it was meant to force her to resign. The complaint does not mention an investigation.
Though she did not resign, Terada transferred to another unit. Before she left, however, she found the crock-pot liner bag in her packed belongings, the complaint states.
The incident caused her to suffer traumatizing nightmares, prompting her seek help from Kaiser's Employee Assistance Program until she could visit her psychiatrist on her day off. There she confided in Norman Gibson who counseled her to find another job rather than going public with what Joyce Gilbert allegedly did to her.
"Rather than just listening and comforting plaintiff, Gibson began to twist plaintiff's dream into a real-time event. This EAP session further traumatized plaintiff. Mr. Gibson was clearly unqualified to assist plaintiff with this matter as clearly established later through his interaction with plaintiff's treating psychiatrist," according to the complaint.
Also, Gibson had assured Terada he would keep their conversations confidential, but later told her he had to report what she had said, to Gilbert and another employee, the complaint states.
Gibson continued to antagonize her, attempting to provide treatment to her as a psychiatrist would, claiming she was an "imminent threat to the health and safety of others" and reporting their discussions to his supervisors, according to the complaint.
Terada said she was "mortified" and that she was just explaining her dream to Gibson who knew she was not a threat, she says in her complaint. Gilbert, on the other hand, was passing out chocolates to celebrate plaintiff's anticipated removal from the workplace.
"As a result of Gibson's practicing psychiatry without a license, plaintiff was set back further in her treatment with her treating psychiatrist. Gibson even contacted plaintiff's treating psychiatrist and inquired whether she was going to hospitalize plaintiff," the complaint says.
Kaiser attempted to suspend Terada following pretextual investigations for "workplace violations" in May 2013, but her union blocked the action, according to the complaint.
She seeks punitive damages for violation of the state Whistleblower Act.
She is represented by Shawn A. Luiz.