Former Kaiser nurse awarded $41M in retaliation lawsuit

A Los Angeles jury awarded $41.49 million to a former nurse who said Kaiser Permanente's hospitals and health plan retaliated against and eventually terminated her for raising issues with patient safety and care quality, MyNewsLA reported Dec. 12.

The former nurse, Maria Gatchalian, was awarded $11.49 million in compensatory damages, including $9 million for emotional distress, and $30 million in punitive damages.

"We stand by her termination and are surprised and disappointed in the verdict," Murtaza Sanwari, senior vice president and area manager for Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills/West Ventura County, told Becker's in a statement. "Kaiser Permanente plans to appeal this decision and will maintain our high standards in protecting the health and safety of all our patients." 

Before her termination in 2019, Ms. Gatchalian had worked at the Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills Medical Center since 1989, first as a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit and later as a charge nurse in that unit.

According to MyNewsLA, Ms. Gatchalian said she had repeatedly raised concerns with Kaiser management about patient safety and care quality related to alleged understaffing and was discouraged from submitting formal complaints. In 2017, Ms. Gatchalian became aware of a patient's father bringing a knife to the NICU, the Sacramento Bee reported. When Ms. Gatchalian alerted the NICU director and hospital union president, she experienced harassment and retaliation from her supervisor, according to the report.

Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser argued in court that Ms. Gatchalian admitted she had placed her bare feet on equipment in the NICU, and the organization made the decision to terminate her following her conduct.

"We work hard to make Kaiser Permanente a great place to work and a great place to receive care," Mr. Sanwari said. "The allegations in this lawsuit are at odds with the facts we showed in the courtroom." 

"To be clear, this charge nurse's job was to be a leader for other nurses, ensure the standards of care were followed and to protect the neonatal babies entrusted to our care. She was terminated in 2019 following an incident where she was found sitting in a recliner in the neonatal intensive care unit, on her personal phone and resting her bare feet on an isolette with a neonatal infant inside. Neonatal intensive care units are critical care units designed for critically ill babies most often born prematurely and very susceptible to infections.

The isolette, where this nurse placed her bare feet, is a protective environment designed to shield the infant from infection causing germs. Placing her bare feet on the isolette may have created risk to the infant which could have been life threatening. Her actions were egregious and in violation of our infection control policies and standards."

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