Case Type: Whistleblower
Organizations: Aurora Behavioral Healthcare – Santa Rosa, LLC and Signature Healthcare Services, LLC
Attorneys at Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP and Valerian Law filed suit on Friday against Aurora Behavioral Healthcare – Santa Rosa, LLC and Signature Healthcare Services, LLC in Sonoma County Superior Court on behalf of Teresa Brooke, the former Chief Nursing Officer at Aurora Santa Rosa Hospital, an acute psychiatric facility in Sonoma County operated by the two companies.
The complaint details numerous examples of dangerous conditions at the hospital, including severe staff shortages that resulted in injuries to patients and staff, and alleges that Aurora and Signature illegally fired Ms. Brooke after she made complaints, both internally and to a government agency.
Ms. Brooke is represented in the matter by Xinying Valerian of Valerian Law and Qiaojing Zheng of Sanford Heisler Sharp.
“Teresa Brooke has more than 30 years of experience in nursing and hospital management, but the dangerous conditions she found at Aurora were unlike anything she had ever seen,” said Zheng. “The Hospital suffered from constant staff shortages brought on by the meager budget supplied by Aurora’s corporate leadership at Signature. The result was predictable and preventable-frequent injuries to patients and staff.”
The complaint alleges that staff and patients “were subjected to routine punching, kicking, choking, and, on one occasion, even a “full-blown patient riot” and that the staffing shortages “led to high incidence of patient self-harm and multiple occurrences of sexual violence involving patients, some of them minors,” during Ms. Brooke’s tenure.
The suit characterizes Aurora and Signature as routinely prioritizing profits over the care and rights of patients and hospital staff at their Santa Rosa location, which provides inpatient, partial hospitalization and outpatient mental health services to adults and adolescents. According to its website (aurorasantarosa.com), Aurora operates other psychiatric hospitals in California, Illinois, Arizona, Massachusetts, Nevada and Texas.
According to the suit, Ms. Brooke pushed for limiting admissions and increasing staffing but met resistance from corporate leaders. Higher ups overrode her professional judgment about admissions caps and after-hours admissions when on-duty staffing was inadequate, and took steps to open an additional patient unit. She subsequently filed a complaint about understaffing and unsafe conditions with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) in fall 2016 and was fired without warning shortly thereafter. The lawsuit states that Ms. Brooke’s complaint to the CDPH resulted in an investigation that ultimately “substantiated and validated” her concerns.
“Ms. Brooke wanted nothing more than to fulfill her ethical obligations as a nursing professional by protecting patients and staff,” said Valerian. “She feared for the safety of her patients and staff, so she blew the whistle.”
The complaint describes numerous California Labor Code and OSHA violations, including chronic understaffing, unsafe placement of patient seclusion and restraint rooms, unsafe administration of medications, failure to provide sufficient hand washing and sanitizing stations, lack of a workplace injury and illness prevention program for employees, failure to provide staff with suitable seating, and illegal confidentiality policies and practices for employees. It also details how Aurora and Signature resisted Ms. Brooke’s repeated efforts to correct understaffing and improve nursing staff pay, as well as a high level of staff turnover, outbreaks of patient violence, and staff and patient injuries and incidents.
The complaint cites nine causes of action, including wrongful termination, retaliation in violation of several provisions of the California Labor and Health and Safety Codes, solicitation of an employee by misrepresentation in violation of the California Labor Code, and a Private Attorney General enforcement claim.
Ms. Brooke seeks general economic and non-economic damages, special damages, punitive damages, permanent injunctive relief, legal fees, pre- and post-judgment interest and other relief the Court finds appropriate.
A jury trial is requested.