An aerial photo taken in 2014 shows the current South Peninsula Hospital campus. (Photo provided)

An aerial photo taken in 2014 shows the current South Peninsula Hospital campus. (Photo provided)

Former SPH nurses allege age discrimination

A group of former South Peninsula Hospital nurses have filed a civil suit alleging age discrimination by hospital managers.

In a suit filed on March 15 in Homer District Court against South Peninsula Hospital Inc. — the nonprofit organization that operates the hospital — Chris Long, Laurie Stargel, Brian Miller, Louise St. Laurent and Katherine White claim they lost their jobs as part of a pattern of age discrimination by the hospital’s chief nursing officer and other managers. All of the plaintiffs were 50 years or older at the time.

In the complaint filed by Long et al.’s Anchorage lawyer, Michael Flanigan, they claim actions of SPH management personnel “involved a concerted plan and scheme to force the plaintiffs to leave as employees and staff, due to their age.” The goal was “to rid the hospital of nursing staff over 50 years of age and replace them with younger, far less experienced and cheaper nursing staff, despite the fact that the plaintiffs were highly qualified and experienced and contributed greatly to the providing of quality care at the hospital,” Flanigan wrote in the complaint.

In the complaint, Long claimed he worked 10 years as a registered nurse, or RN, and later as assistant surgical services manager. In November 2017, Long signed a contract with SPH to work as assistant surgical services manager in a job sharing arrangement with St. Laurent. He was to work six-month stretches. St. Laurent had worked as an operating room nurse. Long’s contract would continue even if St. Laurent left.

St. Laurent claimed that Chief Nursing Officer Lee Yale rescinded St. Laurent’s contract in November 2017. In the complaint, Flanigan wrote that when Long asked Yale why St. Laurent had been let go, Yale said it was because St. Laurent had asked about her benefits under the contract.

Before the start of his break in March 2018, Long checked with Yale to make sure his job was secure, Flanigan wrote. Near the end of his break in June 2018, Long told Yale he was returning to work. He then received health insurance papers advising him of his right to extend medical insurance after the end of his employment. Yale then told Long his job had been eliminated for economic purposes. However, Long claimed the acting chief executive officer, Holly Torres, told him the hospital had higher profits and ran at a 5-percent profit margin. Later in 2018, Long applied for an opening for a surgical services manager, but did not get an interview.

Another nurse, Brian Miller, a certified registered nurse anesthesiologist with 32 years of nursing experience, also alleged age discrimination. In the complaint, Miller claimed Yale created a hostile work environment, and that older nurses were being replaced with less experienced staff who made errors in training or daily operation of the operating room. When Miller tried to let Yale know of these issues, he claimed she tried to discredit him. He claimed he resigned because of the alleged hostile work environment.

In the complaint, Stargel complained she also been harassed by Yale, saying Yale called her an “old lady,” left her out of staff parties and luncheons, and publicly humiliated her in front of other staff. In December 2017 Stargel was let go with no explanation, she claimed.

White alleged she was let go because she sterilized instruments for a local doctor when his autoclave, or sterilizer, was broken, even though others had not been fired for similar infractions. White alleged her firing was part of a larger scheme to replace older, experienced nurses with less experienced, younger nurses.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages. They also have asked for a jury trial.

SPH spokesperson Derotha Ferraro said on Tuesday the hospital had not received a copy of the complaint and could not comment. Several messages were left with Flanigan’s office seeking further comment, but he did not respond by press time. Long, the lead plaintiff, said he would defer comment to his lawyer.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

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