Whidbey General Hospital withheld information, nurses say

A complaint filed by the state nurses’ association last month includes a claim that Whidbey General Hospital withheld requested information several times in recent months.

The action filed with the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission, or PERC, comes during the hospital’s regular three-year nursing contract negotiations with the Washington State Nursing Association. It also comes on the heels of a divisive criminal case against Linda Gipson, the hospital’s chief nursing officer.

In the complaint, acquired from PERC by The Record, the nurses’ association claims the hospital failed to produce documents it requested regarding member nurses included in the hospital’s “internal investigation of allegations against Chief Nursing Officer, Linda Gipson, stemming from her interactions with a patient.”

Gipson was acquitted last month of assaulting a mentally ill patient last May. Several nurses who were in the room at the time testified against Gipson.

The WSNA claims that it attempted to obtain the investigation-related documents since November, but the hospital, “to date, has not produced the documents.”

A Thursday meeting between the Whidbey News Group publisher and editorial staff with the hospital’s new CEO, Geri Forbes, was canceled via email early Thursday. Another meeting date had not been scheduled at press time, though the hospital staff expressed their intention to schedule another meeting date in May.

Patricia Duff, the hospital’s interim public relations liaison, emailed a statement to the newspaper Thursday about the WSNA complaint.

“The hospital has a well-established history of honoring our nurses and we strive to maintain positive and mutually respectful relationships with all members of our staff,” the email stated. “It is not uncommon for these sorts of complaints to be lodged during contract negotiations in any industry and the appropriate individuals will address allegations in a timely and thoughtful manner.”

The hospital’s chief quality officer, Teresa Fulton, who gave testimony during Gipson’s trial that conflicted with testimony given by the hospital’s former CEO, Tom Tomasino, has since resigned.

The nurses’ complaint also states that Whidbey General Hospital administrators failed to hand over documents concerning the “termination of (nurse) Terrie Owens.”

The WSNA alleges that it requested in October that the hospital “explain the evidence that supported the termination of union member Terrie Owens.” The complaint claims that the hospital responded that it “had relied on Ms. Owens’ ‘Patient Charts’ and two ‘Patient Safety Net Reports.’ ”

The hospital apparently provided some documents in November, but the WSNA claims that those were illegible and “did not include a significant portion of the medical records.”

In an email last week, however, Duff said that Owens “is currently an employee of the hospital.”

The nurses association is asking PERC to find that “the hospital violated its duty to bargain in good faith” and require the hospital to “cease and desist from violating” the collective bargaining laws.

WSNA’s negotiations with the hospital are scheduled to resume May 4-5, according to the association’s website.