Former Sutter exec says he reported IT shortfalls but was fired after computer outage

Stuart James, former chief information services operating officer at Sutter Health, claims the Sacramento, Calif.-based health system fired him after he reported management's failure to install backup EHR software that could have aided IT operations during Sutter's computer network outage in May 2018, Sacramento Bee reports. 

In his lawsuit, filed July 23 in Sacramento Superior Court, Mr. James alleged that in addition to wrongfully firing him in July 2018, Sutter defamed him by listing him as one of three IT executives "terminated in the fallout from the outage," according to the report.

Sutter Health Vice President of Communications Lisa Page denied Mr. James' allegations and said the health system encourages its employees to report safety concerns, according to an emailed statement to Becker's Hospital Review. "We vigorously dispute Mr. James' claims, which are completely unfounded," Ms. Page said. "The Sutter Health Board was given an accurate and thorough briefing on the cause of the outage from independent investigators after a thorough outside review of the situation."

Mr. James claimed he gave Sutter Health's chief technology officer a 124-page report that called on the health system's need to install backup infrastructure for its EHR system, according to the report. This was before May 14, 2018, when a fire suppression-system at one of Sutter's data centers triggered a 27-hour computer outage, which left the health system unable to access certain patient health information and medication lists, among other data. Some elective surgeries were also delayed or rescheduled.

During a June 4, 2018, interview with an independent investigator, Mr. James said that Sutter's operations division failed to adequately plan and prepare procedures to ensure patient safety in the event of a network outage, according to court documents, the publication reports. Additionally, Mr. James said Sutter's information services team "had done the best job it could, given the funding limitations imposed by Sutter leadership," according to the report.

Because of his termination in relation to the outage incident, Mr. James claimed he has been unable to "secure commensurate and regular employment," the report states. Additionally, Mr. James said he was the only African American executive terminated in the wake of the investigation as well as the only individual to be escorted out of the building by security, according to the lawsuit.

In his lawsuit, Mr. James alleged Sutter broke eight California state laws in terminating him, and he is seeking compensation and punitive damages as well as payment for his attorneys' fees and civil penalties.

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