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Former nurse's suit claims Excela fired her for blowing whistle

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

A former nurse at Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg claims she was fired because she reported allegations that patients may have been contaminated from equipment.

In a three-count whistleblower lawsuit filed in Westmoreland County, Kelley Lear of Homer City contends she notified hospital officials of suspicions that in May 2011, officials falsified findings to indicate that an autoclave, a device that sterilized surgical instruments, had passed inspections.

The autoclave failed those tests, according to Lear's lawsuit.

Lear contends that in September, she was suspended for having a "negative conversation" by reporting the allegations that the autoclave test results were altered.

She claimed that she was erroneously fired two weeks later under the hospital's disciplinary policy for failing to clock in to work on her first day back on the job.

"Westmoreland Hospital discharged, threatened, otherwise discriminated and retaliated against Mrs. Lear because she made a good faith report of wrongdoing to it," according to her lawsuit.

She is seeking an unspecified amount in compensatory and punitive damages against the hospital.

Excela officials on Friday denied any wrongdoing.

"We have not seen the complaint, but based on our understanding of the allegations, we can say we did a full and complete investigation, and determined there was not a patient safety concern. Both the Department of Health and the Joint Commission agreed.

Our past actions demonstrate that if we do have a safety issue, we will notify patients, and be transparent," hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Miele said.

In June, Excela notified 61 patients that an autoclave wasn't working properly during a four-day period beginning on May 2 at Excela Health Frick Hospital in Mt. Pleasant.

Last year, Excela sent letters to 191 patients telling them they may have had coronary stents implanted unnecessarily at the Greensburg hospital.

So far, 83 stent patients filed lawsuits against Excela.

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