Compassionate care? UVA Medical’s firing of nurse rejected three times

The University of Virginia will be paying Susan Jordan’s legal fees in a case UVA appealed four times.
Rammelkamp Foto The University of Virginia will be paying Susan Jordan’s legal fees in a case UVA appealed four times. Rammelkamp Foto

When Susan Jordan’s ex-husband learned he had cancer, he named her as his agent for both his power of attorney and advanced medical directive. And when Kurt Jordan asked her to help him access and understand his medical records, she did.

Both Jordans worked at UVA Medical Center. And nearly a year ago on April 23, 2014, Susan Jordan was fired and escorted from the building for looking at Kurt’s records “without authorization,” according to her termination form.

“I was in shock,” she said. “I was in the middle of training.”

Jordan successfully sought reinstatement to her job, and UVA Medical Center appealed that decision—twice. Most recently, a third review took place March 24 in Albemarle Circuit Court, where again a judge ruled in Jordan’s favor. Will the third time be the charm for Jordan?

Susan Jordan was a registered nurse for six years with a “spotless personnel record and nothing but positive performance evaluations,” according to an appeal memo. She and Kurt, a nurse in the emergency room, maintained a “very close and trusting relationship,” according to the memo, and that’s why he executed legal documents to have her act as his agent in 2012.

Four times after a clinical visit between December 2013 and February 2014, Kurt, weak, with tremors and having difficulty seeing, came to Susan’s neuroradiology department and asked for her help in understanding lab results, according to court documents. At least two of these times, Susan’s supervisor was present and approved the access.

Jordan was fired because she violated Medical Center policy for “multiple unauthorized intentional accesses of a patient’s medical records without authorization,” according to court documents. Punishment ranged from a three-day unpaid suspension to termination. Jordan’s supervisor received a “letter of counseling” in her personnel file.

In his August 18 decision, hearing officer William Davidson, a Midlothian attorney who heard the case for the Department of Human Resource Management in Richmond, said UVA Medical Center’s insistence of termination contradicted its own policies and training manuals. “This is a sham and a fraud perpetrated upon its employees,” he wrote in his decision.

Davidson called it a “knee-jerk reaction policy” that reminded him of a Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation: “Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

The hearing officer found that Kurt Jordan was looking at his own records, which he was allowed to do, and that Susan Jordan was acting as his agent when she accessed them with him there. UVA Medical Center appealed.

Davidson’s decision was upheld in two administrative reviews by the Department of Human Resource Management in October and November. Again UVA appealed.

During the Albemarle Circuit Court hearing, UVA Health System attorney Lynne Fleming told Judge Cheryl Higgins it was a “matter of convenience” for Susan Jordan to use her own access code and she had received mandatory training about access to patient records. “The power of attorney doesn’t authorize someone to do something otherwise prohibited,” said Fleming. “You can’t go into the voting booth for them.”

Jordan’s attorney, Janice Redinger, said Susan had the right to stand in Kurt’s shoes as his legal agent.

Judge Higgins agreed, and upheld the hearing officer’s decision.

After the hearing, UVA counsel Fleming said she’d review the judge’s decision, but declined to say whether the medical center would appeal again. The hospital has 30 days to appeal.

UVA Health System spokesman Eric Swensen said he was unable to comment because it was a personnel matter.

After the March 24 hearing, Jordan said she was “overwhelmed” that three independent reviewers had found she was unfairly fired. “It’s been a long year,” she said.

Kurt Jordan died January 30.

“Poor Kurt,” said Redinger. “He felt so responsible for this because he asked her to do it.”

More contested firings

It was a week of people feeling unfairly terminated.

Weatherman canned for City Council speech

Like many other citizens, NBC29 weekend weatherman Kirk Clyatt went before Charlottesville City Council February 2 to voice his opposition to having Lee-Jackson Day an official holiday. Unlike many other citizens, Clyatt said he lost his job when he refused to promise his bosses he wouldn’t do it again.

Employee guidelines for Waterman Broadcasting, NBC29’s parent company, said its policy “was to allow and support all employees to participate in civic, political, charitable or other community activities,” which the company noted “could greatly enhance the quality of life in our community.” A caveat cautioned that high-visibility employees cannot lend the TV station’s name to those endeavors.

Clyatt, 56, said he never identified himself as working for NBC29, but within days of his council appearance, he received a new policy from the station that prohibited political yard signs, bumper stickers and social media posts advocating for a candidate, and said, “no public stance on controversial issues” and “no testifying before a public body on personal opinions.”

“You can’t have a low-level job and not be able to voice your opinion,” said Clyatt, who is gay. “I hid who I was for so long. I can no longer work for a station that wouldn’t let me speak up about discrimination.”

Poynter Institute journalism ethicist Kelly McBride said such policies are not unheard of, but in an era of social media, some companies are less concerned about reporters’ neutrality. For example, NPR’s Diane Rehm was quite outspoken about physician-assisted suicide after her husband’s death until NPR voiced concern that she was becoming a lobbyist on the issue.

“Some news organizations are fine with it in limited areas with prior approval,” said McBride, “and some news organizations will never be O.K. with it.”

NBC29 news director Dave Foky referred a reporter to station manager Harold Wright, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Clyatt said he’d never spoken at a public meeting before. “I was really, really proud of myself. And to be gagged 24 hours a day to keep a job as weekend weatherman, said Clyatt, “That’s too much to ask.”

Prelude to a lawsuit in spycam firing

Charlottesville Fire Department mechanic J.R. Harris, who was fired October 7, got his job reinstated, along with back pay and benefits when a personnel appeals board ruled in his favor February 27. But the city refused to pony up for the $16,000 in attorney fees he’d accrued fighting his termination, and on March 30, his attorney, Janice Redinger, filed a notice of claim for $250,000, the first step before filing a lawsuit, she said.

The notice claims negligence, conspiracy, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Harris was fired on what he contends were bogus allegations of unsatisfactory work performance after
a bottle alleged to be alcohol was
found in his desk and a hidden camera placed in his office showed him
removing the bottle.

Last month, Human Resources Director Galloway Beck said there’s no legal authority for the city to reimburse employees for personal legal expenses.

Deputy City Attorney Allyson Davies, who represented the city against Harris, declined to comment.

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