SIOUX CITY — A former director in MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center’s cardiovascular unit has filed a new lawsuit against the hospital in which she reiterates previous claims that she was fired for reporting safety and malpractice concerns about a heart surgeon to the hospital’s ethics committee.
Cynthia Tener says in the lawsuit she reported concerns about the physician failing to obtain proper consent from patients, performing unsafe surgical procedures and falsifying paperwork. The reporting of such concerns is a protected activity in Iowa and was a determining factor in the decision to fire her, Tener said.
If Mercy’s actions go unaddressed, Tener said, it could discourage other nurses and doctors from complying with their statutory and ethical obligation to protect patients from undisclosed medical mistakes and malpractice.
Administrators told Tener she was fired for creating a toxic work environment, but refused to provide information about any complaints against her, according to the lawsuit, filed against Mercy Health Services-Iowa Corp., which does business as MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center, and its parent company, Indiana-based Trinity Health Corporation.
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A MercyOne spokeswoman said the company could not comment on the allegations.
“MercyOne stands by our cardiac services program, and our commitment to safe, quality care is steadfast alongside our commitment to the fair and valued treatment of colleagues, physicians and providers. As this is an active legal matter, we are unable to provide further comment,” Michaela Feldmann, MercyOne regional communications lead, said in an emailed statement.
Tener had sued Mercy in federal court in May on charges of retaliatory firing and retaliation in violation of the federal False Claims Act. A federal judge dismissed the suit in July, ruling it did not provide enough factual evidence to show MercyOne’s sole basis for firing Tener was retaliation under provisions of the False Claims Act. The judge said she’d be better off filing her lawsuit in state court.
The new lawsuit, filed Aug. 15 in Woodbury County District Court, says Tener was wrongfully terminated. It does not include a retaliation claim, but contains the same factual allegations.
The former director of MercyOne’s cardiovascular service line in which she supervised nurses and clinic leaders, Tener had informed hospital administrators of concerns brought to her by nurses and another doctor that the heart surgeon was performing risky procedures on patients without obtaining proper consent from them and performing an excessive number of add-on procedures.
In one instance, the surgeon had opened a patient in the operating room without other treating physicians present and failed to follow the surgical plan that he, the physicians and the patient had agreed upon. The patient died not long after surgery.
Concerns were raised about the surgeon, who is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, keeping patients who had little to no chance of recovery on ventilators and other artificial life-sustaining measures for at least 30 days after surgery to protect his outcomes statistics in a national database.
After the hospital limited the surgeon to surgeries with low patient risk levels, Tener said she was informed the surgeon began falsifying patients’ risk scores so he could again perform high-risk surgeries.
Tener submitted a written complaint about the surgeon with MercyOne’s internal ethics committee in July 2021 after being informed the surgeon had not informed a patient that he intended to replace the patient’s heart valves, invalidating the patient’s prior consent.
After two nurses filed an internal complaint against the surgeon for falsely documenting a procedure without the patient’s consent, the surgeon told administrators he believed Tener was encouraging nurses to file complaints against him.
Tener said she was suspended on Nov. 3 after administrators informed her of complaints she was creating a toxic work environment. She was fired six days later.
Tener has requested a judgment awarding her an unspecified amount in compensatory and punitive damages.