Former nurse sues St. Joseph’s Hospital claiming unsafe staffing in emergency room

Marie David says she quit the hospital in May after taking her concerns to BayCare executives. The hospital disputes her account.
A trauma room at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where a former nurse alleges in a lawsuit that the emergency room was understaffed.
A trauma room at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where a former nurse alleges in a lawsuit that the emergency room was understaffed.
Published Sept. 3, 2019|Updated Sept. 5, 2019

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A St. Joseph’s Hospital nurse is suing her former employer over unsafe workplace conditions, which include allegations of “dangerously" low staffing levels in the emergency room.

The lawsuit was filed in Hillsborough County circuit court by Marie David, a Pinellas County resident who had worked at the Tampa hospital for the last five years before resigning. St. Joseph’s is part of the BayCare health care system, which employed David for a total of 10 years, the suit said.

In August 2018, David met with managers at the hospital to raise concerns about low staffing levels during overnight shifts in the emergency room and other concerns, court documents show. David claims in the suit that the hospital staffed two overnight triage nurses as opposed to three during the day shift, leaving the department short-staffed at night, which stressed other employees to meet the facility’s needs.

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BayCare officials initially declined to comment on details of the case, citing a policy of not discussing current litigation.

But in a subsequent statement Wednesday, the health system said it disagreed with David’s allegations and called the lawsuit “a retaliation case brought by one former team member.”

The statement added: “We take this very seriously and the team member’s concerns were reviewed by multiple levels of leadership. We will respond with details in the proper legal forum.”

BayCare operates 15 hospitals in the Tampa Bay area.

Scott Terry, an attorney representing David said she was treated unfairly during her time at St. Joseph’s.

"Mrs. David made serious allegations while she worked there, and you would think that BayCare would welcome those kinds of discussions,” Terry said. “But that was not the case.”

Her lawsuit, filed Aug. 21, claims that her meeting with BayCare managers “turned tense” and they became defensive. A complaint details several other meetings between David and BayCare managers, where they told her she would not be promoted and claimed they “took away all of the shifts” where David would work as a charge nurse, overseeing others.

During this time, David and several co-workers lodged a complaint with the Joint Commission, a federal organization that regulates hospitals, over a “sentinel event” that occurred in the ER waiting room. The complaint was anonymous and the details of an ongoing investigation are not public, but the suit said that St. Joseph’s emergency room management “actively sought to determine who had logged the complaints.”

In March, BayCare managers gave David a “verbal warning in her disciplinary file” and told her she was expected to complete eight classes, meet monthly with management to submit completed assignments and to copy a manager on all communication, according to the suit.

David said she sent an email to a Kimberly Guy, a senior vice president at BayCare, reiterating her concerns about short staffing in the ER, shortly after the March meeting. A few weeks later, David met with Lisa Johnson, BayCare’s chief nursing officer, who offered to reduce some of the discipline previously imposed, court documents show.

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But David said that things did not improve for her after this meeting, and she quit her job on May 31.

“I can assure you that patient safety is our top priority,” BayCare spokeswoman Lisa Razler said in an email responding to the lawsuit. “Our mission is to provide the highest quality care possible to each of our patients, and we take pride in providing extraordinary care to all we serve.”

In it’s follow-up statement, BayCare added: “We encourage team members to share any safety concerns with us so that we can continuously improve processes throughout the hospital.”

David filed the suit as a private whistleblower and claims she’s suffered lost wages, humiliation, and emotional pain, among other issues. She’s seeking damages in excess of $15,000 in “relief the court deems proper.”

BayCare has filed to dismiss the case once, and again to remove it.