PALO ALTO — An ex-nurse at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford is suing his former employer, claiming that he was fired because he spoke out about unsafe practices he observed while working in neonatal care, including the unchecked use of restraints on premature babies.
Spencer Lucas, 31, also alleges in the lawsuit filed in a Santa Clara County Superior Court that he called attention to other misconduct, including threatening language and sexual harassment. Lucas says he was “discharged” from his job as a patient-care manager last November — after just five months on the job — so that he couldn’t criticize the hospital to state inspectors who had gone there investigating an unrelated complaint.
“I tried on several occasions to have these issues addressed,” Lucas said in an interview with his news organization. “But the more I was reporting this information, the more I became a target.”
In a statement, the hospital declined to respond in detail to the lawsuit, calling it a pending legal matter, but strongly refuted Lucas’ claims.
“We deny any and all allegations of unlawful conduct and intend to defend the suit vigorously,” the statement reads. “We are deeply committed to protecting the safety of our patients and our organization has long-standing policies designed to ensure a respectful workplace that is free of discrimination and retaliation for our employees”.
Among the more troubling allegations that Lucas made was the discovery of wrist and other restraints used on babies weighing as little as 2 pounds, without required documentation and in violation of hospital rules.In one instance, he alleges in the lawsuit, a baby suffered wrist fractures because of the restraints. Lucas said he tried to get the use of the restraints banned altogether from the neonatal intensive care unit.
Lucas also asserts in his lawsuit that when an infant died in the unit in October, presumably from a Central Line-associated Blood Stream Infection, involving a nurse who he previously complained was excessively using restraints on infants, he ran into resistance from a supervisor when he “insisted” that an in-depth evaluation be performed.
Ultimately, Lucas contends his job was the casualty of the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital’s emphasis on preserving its sterling reputation, highlighted recently by its ranking this month as the country’s sixth best children’s hospital in neonatology, among other accolades.
“It was very alarming. It’s a no-brainer when something happens and patients are harmed, you should want to have a thorough investigation to determine what happened,” he said. “When that question was asked in a group, people looked at me like I was an alien.”
According to the lawsuit, inspectors from the state Department of Public Health visited the hospital Nov. 15 to investigate a patient incident in 2017, reportedly involving issues similar to the ones that Lucas had been trying to flag a year later. On Nov. 16, he was placed on paid administrative leave, and 10 days after that he was fired.
Lucas’ attorney, Angela Alioto, said her client had no record of poor work performance and that he was “stunned” when he was terminated for insubordination.
“He’s highly respected,” Alioto said. “If you are ever sick, you want Spencer Lucas in charge of the nurse by the side of your bed.”
Lucas, who is now working in the nursing field near Palm Springs, also claims in his lawsuit that he was discriminated because of his gender, as a male nurse in a predominantly female profession. He seeks unspecified monetary damages for lost potential wages as well as punitive damages for being subjected to “great derision and embarrassment,” all as a result of his firing.