DMC Sinai-Grace nurses sue Tenet, allege retaliatory firings 

Four nurses and former employees of DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit are suing their former employer and its parent company, alleging they were terminated after speaking out about inadequate staffing and patient care during the COVID-19 patient surge. 

The plaintiffs filed suit June 10 in Wayne County Circuit Court. The complaint claims the defendants — Detroit Medical Center in Detroit and Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare ⁠— violated the Michigan Whistleblowers' Protection Act when their employment was terminated May 6. The plaintiffs are also suing for intentional infliction of emotional distress. They each seek $25 million in damages.

Each of the former employees raised concerns about patient safety, sufficient staffing and access to personal protective equipment to hospital management, the press and/or local and federal government officials, as detailed in the complaint. These interactions took place during the surge of COVID-19 patients that occurred in late March through mid-April.

Issues raised by the plaintiffs to management include: 

  • One plaintiff was allegedly forced to work back-to-back shifts, amounting to 25 straight working hours, from April 5 to April 6. 
  • An alleged lack of oxygen monitoring equipment and patient supervision for numerous patients, which resulted in patients on oxygen machines going unmonitored. 
  • Concern for patients on ventilators and/or high-dosage medications at high risk for medical emergencies, and how inadequate conditions at the hospital could cause such an occurrence to go unnoticed and result in unnecessary patient deaths.

The complaint alleges their firings were connected to photos leaked to CNN in April, which showed bodies of dead patients stored in vacant rooms and piled up in refrigerated holding units in the parking lot of DMC Sinai-Grace. CNN identified the source of the photos as "emergency room staff at Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit."

The plaintiffs told hospital officials they did not take or disclose the photos to CNN, but they were each fired May 6 for "violating various vague policies," according to the complaint. 

A spokesperson for DMC said the system does not comment on litigation and shared the statement DMC provided at the time the former employees were terminated:

"Our ethics hotline received complaints that employees had taken inappropriate photos of deceased patients at Sinai Grace Hospital and shared them with other employees. We conducted a comprehensive investigation and took appropriate action based on employee admissions of violations of our patients' right to privacy. We have an unwavering commitment and obligation to respect the privacy of our patients and to treat them with dignity and respect. We will not tolerate actions to the contrary. We will continue to uphold our Standards of Conduct applicable to all employees and are grateful for the hundreds of team members at Sinai Grace Hospital whose courageous work and dedication to patients has been inspiring."

As for the charge of emotional distress, the complaint says that Tenet and DMC "intentionally and/or recklessly decided to maintain a severely understaffed hospital" despite notice that nurses on the front lines were "overwhelmed by dying patients — patients they could not possibly save all the lives of — and were forced to watch this travesty unfold without having a means to save lives."

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