Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 21, 2013

Fired Munson clinic employee settles lawsuit

BY ANNE STANTON astanton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A former Munson Medical Center worker recently settled a lawsuit that alleged her civil rights were violated when she was fired from her job at an HIV-AIDS clinic.

The May 6 settlement prevents Barb Robbins and Munson from commenting on the suit or disclosing the settlement amount. The suit also alleged violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act.

Robbins worked as the patient care coordinator for HIV-AIDS patients treated at the Thomas Judd Care Center, a division of Munson’s Infectious Disease Clinic, according to a lawsuit filed with the 13th Circuit Court.

Robbins received “very good” evaluations in 2008 and 2009, but problems started in 2010 when a new supervisor arrived. She “always advocated for her patients,” which sometimes created conflicts with certain physicians and staff, her lawsuit filing said.

Munson’s response said that Robbins’ advocacy was “not always appropriate” and went beyond the bounds of patient advocacy.

Robbins sent complaints about certain physicians and other staff to the Michigan Department of Community Health, which oversaw the program’s funding. She complained that physicians and other staff did not comply with grant requirements, her filing said.

Robbins also encouraged patients to write to MDCH about their frustrations with physicians and staff who treated them “rudely or unprofessionally,” her filing said.

Munson responded it wasn’t notified of the complaints and never received a copy of them from MDCH.

In July 2011, Robbins’ supervisor charged she was making inflammatory comments about IDC physicians in her regular reports to the state, but Robbins said in her filing she did “nothing of the sort.”

Thereafter, Robbins alleged that she was restricted from seeing patients’ medical records and/or accompanying them on appointments with certain physicians.

In August 2011, Robbins’ supervisor called her into a meeting and told her style was “confrontational” and she would be the “wrong messenger” to speak to the clinic’s physicians and staff about requirements of the state grant.

On Aug. 24, 2011, Munson suspended Robbins for using “poor judgment” in contacting the grant administrator. Munsons’ filing said Robbins’ supervisor administered the grant, not the newly hired grants administrator. In September, Robbins was given a written warning for allegedly contacting an area health department about moving the HIV clinic there. Robbins denied that was her intent.

Munson removed Robbins, a registered nurse, from her job in September, and reassigned her to Munson’s Home Health Palliative Care where she worked a “largely clerical” job at the same pay. Robbins was laid off on May 8, 2012, the lawsuit said.