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Gillispie v. Regionalcare Hospital Partners, Inc.

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

May 19, 2014

MARIE GILLISPIE, Plaintiff,
v.
REGIONALCARE HOSPITAL PARTNERS, INC.; ESSENT HEALTHCARE-WAYNESBURG LLC Doing business as SOUTHWEST REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER; ESSENT HEALTHCARE-PENNSYLVANIA, INC.; ESSENT HEALTHCARE INC.; ESSENT HEALTHCARE; SOUTWEST REGIONAL; MEDICAL CENTER, Defendants. Re: ECF No. 2

Mark R. Hornak, Judge

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Maureen P. Kelly, Magistrate Judge

I. RECOMMENDATION

Pending before the Court is the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Counts II - V of Plaintiffs Complaint, ECF No. 2. The Court has reviewed Plaintiffs Complaint, ECF No. 1, the Motion to Dismiss and accompanying Brief in Support, ECF No. 3, as well as Plaintiffs Brief in Opposition, ECF No. 9. For the following reasons, it is respectfully recommended that the Motion to Dismiss be denied.

II. REPORT

A. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Marie Gillespie (“Plaintiff” or “Gillespie”) initiated this civil action with the filing of a five-count Complaint [ECF No. 1]. In the Complaint, Plaintiff sets forth various claims against Defendants for alleged unlawful retaliatory discharge in violation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (“EMTALA”)[1] (Count I) and alleged wrongful termination in violation of various public policies (Counts II – V). Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss Counts II – V pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, contending that Plaintiff’s Complaint fails to allege facts upon which relief may be granted.

When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept as true the factual allegations in the Complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor. Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). Therefore, for the purposes of this decision, the essential facts are as follows.

For thirteen years leading up to her termination on November 1, 2012, Gillespie was employed in various positions at the Southwest Regional Medical Center (“SWRMC”) in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Defendant Essent Healthcare – Waynesburg is a Delaware corporation licensed to do business in the Western District of Pennsylvania and owns and operates SWRMC. SWRMC also operates as a subsidiary of Defendant RegionalCare Hospital Partners, Inc. At the time of her termination, Gillespie was employed as the Quality Project Coordinator and prior to that position, she served as the Director of Acute Care Services.

In Count I through Count V of her Complaint, Gillespie alleges that she was wrongfully terminated in violation of federal statute and Pennsylvania public policy because she repeatedly voiced concerns that the care provided to four specific patients was in violation of federal and state laws and regulations. In addition, Gillespie alleges that her attempts to report the substandard patient care to appropriate state agencies, as required by applicable regulations, were thwarted by SWRMC’s Chief Executive Officer, Cynthia Cowie (“Cowie”). Within days of voicing her concerns regarding the legal obligation to report these incidents, Gillespie was terminated. She alleges that her termination was retaliatory, in violation of EMTALA and Pennsylvania public policy.

In Count I of her Complaint, Gillespie sets forth a claim pursuant to the anti-retaliation provisions of EMTALA. Gillespie alleges that in October 2012, a pregnant female arrived at the SWRMC Emergency Room, was examined, and then referred to Uniontown Hospital in Fayette County. In making the referral, Gillespie alleges that SWRMC failed to contact a physician at Uniontown Hospital to accept the patient, failed to contact and give a verbal report to a nurse at Uniontown Hospital and failed to arrange transportation for the patient to Uniontown Hospital. Gillespie alleges these failures constitute violations of EMTALA. An internal meeting regarding the EMTALA violations was held with Cowie on October 24, 2012. Gillespie attended the meeting and explained the nature of the violations and the legal obligation to report the incident to the Pennsylvania Department of Health and to the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority. Gillespie alleges that Cowie “replied that no reports were to be made.” [ECF No. 1, ¶ 25].

The following day, Gillespie complained to her supervisor Pam Carroll that Cowie was not permitting any employee to report the incident. A second meeting was convened that day, and Gillespie again “reiterated that it was imperative that the Hospital report the violation…. Cowie responded by saying: ‘We can’t report this. We just got a letter [regarding the most recent of two investigations] …. It’s clear-cut that we are not going to report this.” [ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 30-31]. Cowie directed Gillespie to leave the premises and on November 1, 2012, Gillespie was fired. Gillespie alleges her termination was retaliatory “because she reported the EMTALA violation and insisted that Defendants comply with the law.” In Count II, Gillespie alleges a common law claim for wrongful discharge. In particular, Gillespie alleges that her termination occurred in retaliation for her complaints regarding Cowie’s refusal to comply with EMTALA and Pennsylvania medical regulations implicated by the care Defendants provided to the pregnant female patient. Accordingly, Gillespie claims that her termination violated clearly mandated public policies of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Gillespie sets forth an additional common-law wrongful discharge claim in Count III of the Complaint, arising out of her authorized investigation into the death of patient G.M. in the intensive care unit at SWRMC. Gillespie’s investigation included a review of G.M.’s medical chart and interviews with caregivers. Based on the information obtained, Gillespie concluded that the respiratory therapist and nursing staff were grossly negligent.

Gillespie reported her findings to Cowie, and asked Cowie if her report should be submitted to the Patient Care Authority and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, as required by Pennsylvania law. Cowie stated that no report was to be made. Gillespie then asked if a letter should be prepared to advise the patient’s family of the circumstances surrounding his death. Cowie informed Gillespie that no letter should be written.

Gillespie alleges that she reported the findings of her investigation to the SWRMC Lead Respiratory Therapist, to the Patient Care Manager, and to Pam Carroll. Gillespie informed each of them of the Hospital’s legal obligation to report her findings to appropriate state agencies and to the patient’s family. Shortly after these conversations, on October 26, 2012, Cowie directed Gillespie to leave the SWRMC premises. Gillespie alleges she was terminated on November 1, 2012, because she insisted that Defendants comply with their obligation to report the negligent care to the appropriate authorities and to the patient’s family.

Gillespie sets forth a third claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy at Count IV of the Complaint. In particular, Gillespie alleges she became aware of a serious incident arising out of negligent care afforded to patient M.E. Patient M.E. was transferred to a hospital after developing “large decubitus ulcers” on her buttocks, “necrotic areas on a finger and above and around her lip, ” and an abdominal incision which was not healing properly. Gillespie informed Cowie that a complete investigation into the patient’s care would be necessary. Cowie responded that no investigation would occur and that Gillespie was not to report the incident to the Patient Care Manager, so as to conceal the incident from appropriate ...


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