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Whistle-blowing nurse sues Rideout

Appeal Democrat, 5/22/14

By Harold Kruger

A Rideout Memorial Hospital whistle-blower who tipped off the state about nurse-patient staffing violations is suing for wrongful termination and alleging she was battered by her boss.

  Rachel Mendoza alleged in her suit "she was not a helpless nurse under the control of heartless administrators, managers and supervisors because the state of California took violations of safety and health care seriously and would stand up for her rights to demand safe working conditions and proper care and treatment of patients under her care."

Rideout officials do not comment on litigation.

The suit, filed last week in Yuba County Superior Court, said Mendoza called the state Department of Public Health in June 2011 with her concerns.

The state agency sent an investigator to Rideout in January 2012. The investigator visited the hospital once a week for two months.

Rideout retaliated against Mendoza, the suit said, "falsely accusing her of being rude to co-employees."

In May 2012, the state agency sent a letter to Mendoza outlining its findings and substantiating her complaints.

The 18-page report, which was attached to the suit, focused on staffing levels in "telemetry units," or those areas which offer cardiac monitoring.

According to the state's report, one nurse told the investigator Rideout "had a different interpretation of the law regarding telemetry staffing than the California Department of Public Health, and that was why they had not adjusted staffing."

The nurse "acknowledged the facility staffing of the medical surgical units telemetry patients did not meet the strictest interpretation of the law," the report said.

Five other nurses who were interviewed confidentially said "they did not have an effective mechanism to voice concerns regarding staffing," the report said. "They stated that the administration will only approve the minimum nursing required and did not take into account individual patient needs."

After she received the state report, Mendoza tried to show it to another nurse while both stood outside of the hospital.

Mendoza's boss, Chief Nursing Officer Theresa Grassau, "snuck up from behind and physically pushed herself between them, asking, 'What are you looking at?'"

Grassau then grabbed Mendoza's arm, bruising it, snatched the report out of her hand and retreated into the hospital, the suit said.

Mendoza "reported the robbery to the police that same evening," the suit said. No criminal charges were filed.

In July 2012, the hospital fired Mendoza, the suit said.

The California Nurses Association filed a grievance on Mendoza's behalf with the National Labor Relations Board. Last November, an arbitrator sided with Mendoza and ordered her reinstatement, according to a copy of the arbitrator's decision attached to the lawsuit.

Thomas Angelo wrote that Rideout officials "accepted the chief nursing officer's preposterous story that she had been given the document by (Mendoza)," while Mendoza's "legitimate complaint was ignored, and no discipline of any kind was issued to (Grassau)."

Mendoza's firing "was tainted by anti-union animus," Angelo wrote, "and had she been fairly treated, the termination would have never occurred."

Mendoza was reinstated in February, the suit said, but she did not receive credit for the benefits she had accrued over 13 years.

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