Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 26, 2013

Ex-Pavilions employee files 'whistleblower' suit

BY MATT TROUTMAN mtroutman@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A former Grand Traverse Medical Care Facility social worker claims she was fired as retaliation for blowing the whistle on an alleged physical abuse incident she witnessed on a Grand Traverse Pavilions resident.

Beth Rideout filed a civil complaint in 13th Circuit Court on Aug. 7 against the two county-owned facilities and her former supervisor, Rose Coleman, who serves as chief operating officer. The suit alleges Rideout’s termination in May violated the Michigan Whistleblowers’ Protection Act.

“We’re willing and prepared to go to trial,” said attorney Jay Zelenock, but he noted most civil cases are resolved beforehand.

Rideout worked as social worker at the Grand Traverse Medical Care Facility, a component of Grand Traverse Pavilions, since July 2009.

The suit claims Rideout in October witnessed a certified nursing assistant hit a resident in a Grand Traverse Pavilions “busy common area” after the resident made a comment to the CNA. Rideout confronted the CNA and then reported the misconduct to two supervisors.

This led to “retaliation” in the form of a five-day suspension and biweekly reviews from Coleman and other supervisors unhappy with Rideout’s report, the document states. Zelenock said these actions and Rideout’s eventual termination violated state law.

“Whistleblowers are often viewed negatively by employers unfortunately,” he said. “That’s why the Michigan Legislature passed the whistleblower protection act to protect from the negative actions of employers.”

Patti DeAgostino, director of marketing and community relations at Grand Traverse Pavilions, said the facility encourages employees to report any abuse or neglect and would never fire anyone on that basis. She said the alleged October abuse incident was self-reported to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and the state found the allegation was unsubstantiated after an on-site investigation.

She wouldn’t comment on whether a false or inaccurate report from Rideout led to the social worker’s eventual termination.

“We really don’t discuss personnel matters but the state did a thorough investigation,” she said.

Rideout declined to comment. Zelenock said his understanding was the facility never denied the abuse and instead “pointed a finger” back at Rideout for not doing enough when she witnessed it.

“It was sort of making it the whistleblower’s problem,” he said. “I believe she discharged her duties by telling the person to stop and reporting it up the proper channels.”

DeAgostino said the Pavilions referred the claim to its insurance company, Continental Casualty Company, which will handle future legal filings and representation.