A nurse who worked at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center for more than 30 years is suing the hospital for $2.5 million, claiming she was forced to give up her job in 2012 for “exceeding the scope” of her authority when she tried to save a patient’s life.
Annemarie Morrissey of West Hartford is suing the hospital for breach of implied contract of employment, violation of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and defamation. She has requested a jury trial and is waiting to hear if one will be granted.
In court documents, the hospital denies the allegations. Fiona Phelan, a St. Francis spokeswoman, said this week that hospital officials will not comment on the case as it is still pending.
The case has been in the court system for two years but court records show a flurry of motions and responses have been filed this year after hospital officials requested a summary judgment (when a decision is made without a trial) several months ago in Hartford Superior Court.
Morrissey and Henry Jacobs, her attorney, are fighting that motion, seeking a jury trial.
The dispute dates back to June 2012 when Morrissey had been a nurse at St. Francis for 32 years.
According to court filings by Jacobs, a cardiac patient arrived at St. Francis’ emergency room in unstable condition, having been transported from Manchester Hospital. The ambulance crew took Manchester Hospital’s pacemaker equipment with them when they left, meaning the patient was “not paced.”
The patient was taken to St. Francis’ Cardiac Intensive Care Unit with a pacer wire hanging from his neck, not connected to a pacemaker, according to Morrissey and court documents. An external pacemaker was attached but his vital signs were “critical,” according to the nurse’s legal complaint against the hospital.
Morrissey claims in the court documents that she was asked to help because of her expertise. That’s when she tried to plug the patient’s pacer wire into the pacer and realized it wouldn’t fit because the wire had a plastic sheath on the end of it, to adapt it to Manchester Hospital’s pacer unit.
The nurse, with help from others, cut back the plastic and was able to plug the wire into St. Francis’ pacemaker. The patient immediately began pacing and his vital signs returned to normal, according to the court filings.
The next day, the filings say, the pacer wire malfunctioned, although the patient survived. Morrissey said after the incident she was forced to resign. She said a doctor had previously checked the wire and signed off on it, saying it didn’t need to be replaced and was working properly. She also claims that blame for the wire malfunctioning was unfairly placed solely on her.
The patient passed away last year, Morrissey said.
In an interview this week, Morrissey said the hospital first fired her and then subsequently allowed her to resign, allowing her to retain certain benefits. She said she was suspended the same day the incident occurred and forced to leave her job soon after, without a formal investigation into the matter. Her lawsuit was filed in November 2012.
In the court documents, the hospital denies wrongdoing. The hospital, in response to Morrissey’s claim that she responded to an emergency to save a man’s life, said, “the defendants lack sufficient knowledge or information upon which to form a belief and therefore leave the plaintiff to her proof.’’
Morrissey is seeking punitive damages of $2.5 million. Among other accusations, she says the hospital’s action has “forced” her to take an entry-level job at another hospital that pays about half what she made at St. Francis. She says she has suffered anxiety and sleeplessness and that her reputation has been damaged.
“I was devastated,” she said. “It was my whole life, St. Francis. I enjoyed my job, I enjoyed my patients. (The termination) made me question everything, who I was. I don’t feel that I did anything wrong.”
St. Francis officials, in court documents, said the nurse fails to make a case warranting compensation. Hospital officials also deny “any and all liability” in regard to the defamation accusations. That includes Morrissey’s claim that she was accused of exceeding the scope of her job, jeopardizing a patient’s life and violating policy.
Morrissey said the tactic she used in her efforts to save the patient was “unconventional, but I don’t feel it was harmful to the patient in any way.”