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Hospital to pay $425,000 in whistle-blower lawsuit

Bernard M. Moran has admitted to falsifying records at two hospitals during the past decade. One hospital fired him for the falsifications, and another fired him for poor performance. His license was once suspended for three months.

But none of these troubles stopped him from getting another nursing job this summer, this time at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

The story begins with Moran as a nurse at Mease Countryside Hospital who developed a gambling habit and paid for it by faking his time sheets to the tune of $118,000, according to a recent court deposition.

Mease fired him in 2000, and his license was temporarily suspended, but that didn't stop him from getting hired at Helen Ellis Memorial in Tarpon Springs. He rose to become director of surgical services. And got into trouble again.

Moran acknowledged in a recent court deposition that in 2008 he falsified records at Helen Ellis to make it look like he had given nurses their annual CPR training.

He was fired this April, not because of the falsified records, but because he had failed to let his supervisor know about two serious surgical mistakes at Helen Ellis. But even this firing did not prevent him from getting another job as a nurse at All Children's, where he works now.

Moran's history raises questions about whether hospital officials share information with other hospitals about troubled health care professionals.

All Children's did not know about Moran's recent firing when he was hired this summer, said spokeswoman Ann Miller.

Beth Hardy, a spokeswoman for Morton Plant Mease Hospitals, could not say whether the hospital reported the time sheet falsifications to police in 2000, or passed this information on to other employers. But in general, she said, if a hospital calls seeking information about a former employee, the company will simply confirm the worker's dates of employment and last position held. She said that is "a standard and accepted policy across a lot of large organizations."

Moran's story is coming to light now only because of a lawsuit that includes lengthy depositions of him and others. According to the lawsuit, Colleen Martell, a nursing supervisor who worked part time at Helen Ellis, objected to Moran in 2008 about his decision to falsify the CPR records. She later called it "illegal, immoral and unethical."

About 21/2 weeks after her complaint, she learned her position was being eliminated.

She filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the hospital, and last month was awarded $425,000, said attorney Wil Florin, who handled the case along with Thomas Roebig. The verdict was for $50,000 in lost wages, $250,000 for future lost wages, and $125,000 for pain and suffering. The hospital may also be required to pay legal fees.

"They should have fired this guy and reported him and their problems" to the Agency for Health Care Administration, after the CPR falsifications, Florin said.

Moran didn't get in trouble for the CPR episode because hospital officials "were aware at the highest levels of the company and they still looked the other way," Florin said.

Helen Ellis Hospital spokesman Jerry Touchton said, "We respectfully disagree with the court's decision and we will be reviewing our future options concerning this decision."

Moran could not be reached for comment.

After he was fired from Mease Countryside in 2000, Moran's license was suspended for 90 days. After the suspension, he worked as a nurse at St. Petersburg General Hospital. Nothing in the lawsuit indicates disciplinary problems there.

In 2006, he applied for a job at Helen Ellis, and the application asked: Has your licensure/certification/registration ever been disciplined, restricted, suspended, or revoked or has any condition ever been placed on your license/certification/registration or practice?

He checked "No."

In a deposition last month, Florin asked if Moran was lying on that application, and Moran said, "I did not feel I was lying because I had been told that I did not need to disclose that." But in response to another question, Moran acknowledged, "It is not a truthful statement."

Even so, Moran said, the hospital discovered his previous suspension within his first week at Helen Ellis. A nurse recruiter asked him why he hadn't put it on his application, but the matter never came up again until the lawsuit, he said.

At All Children's, the staff also checks all health professionals to see if they have past disciplinary cases, said Miller. No one is hired unless they are currently clear to work, she said.

While Moran was the director of surgical services at Helen Ellis, his job was to report directly to the hospital's chief operating officer and keep him or her apprised of important issues relating to surgeries.

When Ann Patterson, a new chief operating and nursing officer, began working at the hospital this January, it didn't take long for her to become concerned about his "lack of leadership and communication."

She complained in a memo that Moran had failed to let her know that a surgeon placed the wrong knee prosthesis in a patient in January. In a later meeting on surgery processes, "I noted Bernie to be dozing." In March, she learned of an operation in which a surgical stent apparently was placed in the wrong side of a patient's body, which she called "a MAJOR concern for any hospital."

These issues led to his firing. Touchton, the hospital spokesman, would not say whether Helen Ellis disclosed this information to All Children's or other possible employers.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or ckrueger@sptimes.com.

Hospital to pay $425,000 in whistle-blower lawsuit 10/09/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 9, 2010 9:24pm]

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