Former employee sues health care provider at La Plata County Jail – The Durango Herald

Southern Health Partners allegedly violated Colorado’s law on whistleblowers

Alison Mitchell, a former nurse at La Plata County Jail, is suing Southern Health Partners prison bailiff for violating the Colorado Public Health Informant Act after she raised concerns about company employees who disregard public health orders during the coronavirus pandemic. Southern Health Partners denies any wrongdoing. (Durango Herald file)

A former nurse at the La Plata County Jail has sued the prison’s health care provider, claiming the company retaliated after expressing concern about violations of public health orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alison Mitchell and Durango’s law firm Albrechta & Albrechta filed a federal lawsuit in January, alleging that Tennessee-based Southern Health Partners forced her to resign after she complained that the company did not follow public health guidelines and thus violated Colorado law on public health whistleblowers. .

“I was scared to speak, but I knew I had to say something to protect the patients in prison I was hired to serve,” Mitchell said in a press release.

The case paints a disturbing picture of Southern Health Partners’ La Plata prison staff and the corporation’s inaction during the pandemic.

According to the lawsuit, Southern Health Partners’ medical providers refused to wear masks while working in prison in the summer of 2020, before vaccinations were available.

At the time, public health orders across the country required anyone working in critical businesses, such as prisons, to wear a mask.

When Mitchell approached her supervisor about not wearing a mask, she was told that the company did not require wearing a mask in the office as long as they remained socially distant and that as employees of a contract with Southern Health Partners, they were not required to follow prison policy or public health guidelines for wearing masks.

Attempts to contact Southern Health Partners and the company’s lawyers at Bechtel & Santo at Grand Junction were unsuccessful.

The La Plata County Jail was one of the few prisons and prisons in the state to limit the spread of the coronavirus in 2020 and 2021, before a major outbreak in January 2022 left 68 prisoners and staff ill with COVID-19.

Captain Ed Aber, who heads the detention department at the sheriff’s office, said the prison had not yet heard of the case and declined to comment.

The lawsuit also alleges that during the pandemic, other health care providers with Southern Health Partners continued to maintain conspiracy theories about vaccines and other public health measures, while harassing Mitchell for expressing her concerns.

This included writing anti-public health messages on a shared whiteboard and posting printouts in the office space, including one that said, “This is a mind control device” next to a picture of a mask.

At one point, Mitchell fell ill and did not go to work according to prison policy, but her boss still encouraged her to work.

After expressing their concerns, Mitchell’s colleagues allegedly created a hostile work environment, and Mitchell was no longer eligible for assistance from the company’s administrative assistant with paperwork and answering phone calls.

Mitchell’s boss allegedly tested positive for COVID-19 in December 2020 and deliberately worked in prison without reporting. This led the prison to revoke the supervisor’s security clearance.

When the regional manager of Southern Health Partners arrived to visit and Mitchell shared her concerns, she was allegedly told that “you will have to let this go”, according to the lawsuit.

After a new supervisor continued to hamper her work, including stopping without notice or room for improvement, Mitchell resigned in April 2021, according to the lawsuit.

She wrote in her resignation letter: “I feel that Southern Health Partners intends to fire me because of my complaints about the company’s inability to comply with or impose even the most basic public health guidelines. I do not want to resign, but I do not believe that I have another viable option left. “

Following a complaint to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, Mitchell and her attorney, David Albrechta of Albrechta & Albrechta, filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging Southern Health Partners violated Colorado’s Public Health Emergency Act.

Adopted in 2020, the law protects employees who express concerns about health and safety practices in the workplace during a public health emergency, from retaliation, discrimination or action by their employers to report their concerns.

“Employees who talk about an employer who refuses to follow public health guidelines are protected by the PHEW Act,” Albrecht said in a press release. “This is an important law because it ensures that employees have a voice if they think their employer is not following public health guidelines.

In their legal response to the March lawsuit, Bechtel & Santo’s Southern Health Partners attorneys cited insufficient evidence and rejected Mitchell’s allegations, even denying that the company had hired her as a registered nurse at La Plata County Jail.

Lawyers on both sides are working to set a timetable for the case before they can proceed to the opening and continue the trial.

Mitchell is seeking undisclosed damages from Southern Health Partners, including compensation for lost wages, reputational damage and emotional stress.

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