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Nursing home sued after firing nurse

Published Oct. 8, 2005

A nurse has sued Orchard Ridge Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, alleging that he was fired on a pretext after reporting a case of patient neglect to state regulators.

The lawsuit, filed Monday by licensed practical nurse Robert Zweil, accuses the nursing home and administrators of unlawful retaliation, conspiracy and defamation. The nursing home has disputed the charges, saying that Zweil's firing was not linked to revenge and that a state investigation found no problems.

In July, Zweil was working as a nurse at Orchard Ridge. He discovered that a patient with a serious bedsore had been left untreated for weeks, the suit said, and reported it to his supervisor.

That condition, primarily caused by failing to move the patient regularly, gets worse and worse without care, the suit said.

Instead of treating the man or getting a doctor to examine him, the suit said, another nurse had simply used a large bandage to cover the infected wound. The patient's medical records, the suit said, noted no follow-up care for the condition.

The suit alleged that Zweil's supervisor, Mary Kay Goettsch, told him it wasn't his concern because a doctor was treating the patient now, and besides, the patient was under a "do not resuscitate" order.

Zweil, acting under a state law requiring health care professionals to report neglect, called the state July 15, the suit said.

On July 18, Zweil was fired. The nursing home told him it was for using profanity, the suit said. Zweil denied the allegation but wasn't given a chance to dispute it, the suit said.

Zweil, who was briefly a Republican candidate for County Commission this year before dropping out, has also lost work because of references the nursing home provided to prospective employers, the suit alleged.

Zweil's attorney, Jeffrey Klink, said the state attorney's office has looked into the possibility of criminal wrongdoing in the case. He said he doesn't know what the investigation found, if anything.

The assistant state attorney who Klink said was involved could not be reached for comment.

After learning of the lawsuit, a spokeswoman for the company that owns Orchard Ridge said Zweil's firing was "absolutely not retaliatory." But the company cannot release further details on a personnel matter, said Linda Fenton, spokeswoman for Orchard Ridge owner Harborside Healthcare.

Fenton said a complaint about patient care was investigated at the nursing home and found to be groundless. The state "didn't find that there was any inappropriate treatment at all," she said.

In fact, she said, the home didn't know until learning of Zweil's suit who had actually made the complaint.

Fenton further noted that Orchard Ridge has earned a "superior" rating with state regulators, a notch above "standard."