Woman says CAMC fired her because she knew of wrongdoing

By Cara Bailey | May 29, 2007

CHARLESTON - A Kanawha County woman filed a suit against Charleston Area Medical Center, claiming she was fired because she knew of improper billing practices taking place.

Harriet N. McCormick filed a suit May 9 in Kanawha Circuit Court, against CAMC and Suzanne Hendricks, a registered nurse at CAMC General Division.

McCormick was fired on July 27, 2006, after 14 years of employment as a social worker, the suit says.

According to the suit, on July 18, 2006, McCormick was seeing a 15-year-old psych patient for possible suicide. According to the suit, McCormick had seen the patient several times before because it was common for the patient to threaten suicide in order to get out of foster care.

McCormick claims the patient told her that she did not want to kill herself, instead she just wanted out of foster care.

McCormick wrote on the chart "Discharge to DHHR once medically clear," which she claims is the standard practice in the ER.

The ER manager saw what was written and accused McCormick of "writing doctors orders." McCormick explained she had not written a doctor's order, and had been trained to write in the discharge block where the patient was going to be placed.

After their conversation, the policy was temporarily changed to put a yellow sticky note on the chart stating where the patient was being transferred. The doctors in the emergency room questioned why sticky notes were being used since the rule was to put the information in the discharge block, the suit says.

Two weeks later, McCormick came to work and was called to see Suzann Hendricks, also named as a defendant in the case. Hendricks asked about the night of July 18 and McCormick explained she had been trained to write in the discharge block where the psych patient was going.

McCormick also claims she said the other social workers used the same procedure, which would be confirmed by the ER doctors.

Hendricks then told her she would have to terminate her. However, because McCormick was a good employee, a decision was made to instead suspend her for five days without pay.

According to the suit, McCormick agreed to accept the suspension even though she did nothing wrong.

On Aug. 3, 2006, after being suspended for five days with no pay, McCormick received a call to meet Hendricks. At the meeting Hendricks told McCormick that "human resources feels you did not get a harsh enough punishment and I'm going to have to let you go," the suit says.

McCormick claims she was fired because she knew the behavior medicine department was violating Medicare and Medicaid rules and regulations by billing patients that the department had not actually observed.

McCormick claims she was punished twice for something that was not wrong, when she was suspended, and then fired. She claims she was the victim of intentional emotional distress.

She, through attorney J. Michael Ranson, seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

The case has been assigned to Judge Louis Bloom.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 07-C-911

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