Signal Vice Mayor Says Erlanger Behavioral Health CEO Would Not Let Her Call Police Without Checking With Her; Kept Staffing Too Low

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The person hired to help set up the Erlanger Behavioral Facility on Holtzclaw Avenue says the facility CEO would not let her call police without checking with her first and she kept staffing levels too low in order to make the facility profitable.

Amy Speek, who is the vice mayor for the town of Signal Mountain, sued Erlanger Behavioral Health and Acadia HealthCare in Chancery Court.

Ms. Speek said she wound up being thrown across a desk by a patient. She is asking compensatory and punitive damages up to $250,000.

Tyler Davis, current CEO of Erlanger Behavioral Health Hospital, said, “We disagree with the allegations made in the complaint and will vigorously defend the claims.  Erlanger Behavioral Health Hospital has multiple policies ensuring that our staffing meets all applicable laws and regulations and is appropriate to maintain a safe, therapeutic environment for our patients.  We strongly object to any allegation that our hospital is understaffed.”


The suit, filed by attorneys Frank Pinchak and Eric Burnette, says Ms. Speek was hired as a nurse manager on April 23, 2018, and was "to start operations of a full-service mental health hospital under the Erlanger umbrella of facilities in the Chattanooga area."

In says in July 2018, the hospital passed the Joint Commission and opened one unit of 18 patient beds.

The suit says, "Almost immediately following approval of the Joint Commission, plaintiff was instructed by CEO Oana Radu to begin reducing staffing numbers to increase profit."

It states, "Numerous patients at defendants' hospital were known to have violent propensities. 

"Plaintiff was provided a staffing matrix which would allow the hospital to be profitable. However, she was verbally instructed to further reduce staffing to increase hospital profit, a process known in the industry as 'low census.' "

It says in September 2018 the hospital expanded to include a geriatric unit on the first floor and an adult "Detox" unit on the second floor.

The suit says, "At times plaintiff was instructed to reduce staffing during the night shift to one nurse for the 24-patient unit and an LPN only for the other patient unit, in violation of directives previously given to plaintiff by hospital administration.

"Plaintiff received text messages and other communication from nurses that were scheduled to work this shift stating that they feared for their safety due to the understaffing of the shift.

"As a result of this expansion and to further the hospital's quest for profits, defendants began to reduce staffing further in violation of Tennessee State Board of Nursing rules and regulations with regard to staffing and supervision requirements. For example, on many occasions, there was only one LPN on duty who was assigned to two different floors."

Ms. Speek said she was told on numerous occasions that she was not permitted to call the police regarding patient disruptions without prior authorization from the CEO.

The complaint says, "When plaintiff questioned this directive, she was told that in the event that a patient escalated to violent behavior she could simply call the CEO or the CNO for guidance on how to handle the situation. However, in order to call the police, the CEO had to approve.

"This policy unnecessarily endangered the staff, the patients and the public in violation of the clear public policy of the state of Tennessee."

Ms. Speek said during her last month at the facility she "began raising understaffing issues and the lack of adequate security as both issues related to patient, staff and public safety because of the patients with a propensity for violence."

She said she "experienced great difficulty scheduling nurses willing to work because of the growing safety concerns."

It says she was instructed that "she was not permitted to address any of these concerns to the doctors that were attending to the patients at the hospital, and than any safety concerns should only be discussed with the CEO."

Ms. Speek said during the latter part of October 2018 she was assaulted by a patient when the hospital was under-staffed with an all-female staff. She said she called the CEO, who was commuting to New York, for permission to call police.

The suit says, "The delay in being able to call police unreasonably placed the patients, the hospital staff and the public in danger."

Ms. Speek said following the incident and her continued complaints about the lack of security, she was called into a meeting with the chief nursing officer who instructed her that the CEO had told him to "write her up." Asked the basis for the write up, the chief nursing officer said he did not know the basis, it was stated.

He said he was told that Ms. Speek needed "to change her face."

Ms. Speek said on Nov. 11, 2018, when she said the hospital was again understaffed, a patient began exhibiting violent and erratic behavior. She said she and others tried unsuccessfully to defuse the situation.

She said she tried numerous times to reach the CEO, but was unable to contact her to get her permission to call police.

The suit says Ms. Speek "eventually called police (without permission) in violation of the company policy in an attempt to protect the staff and herself."

It says before police could get there, the patient picked Ms. Speek up and threw her across the nurses' station desk. She said she suffered a torn rotator cuff that required surgery.

Ms. Speek said she requested the next day off, but was told to come in to discuss the incident. She said the next day she sent a letter to Human Resources "detailing the events of the previous day and pointing out the lack of adequate security as well as the staffing issues."

It says Ms. Speek was called into a meeting on Nov. 12, 2018, and told she was placed on administrative leave without pay pending an internal investigation.

She said she was diagnosed with cervicalgia and left shoulder pain and told not to lift anything over 10 pounds. She said she was then placed on personal medical leave.

The suit says on March 23, 2019, where her medical leave expired, she was offered a PRN position.

It says she "was aware that it was defendants' modus operandi to place employees on a PRN status and simply not schedule the employee for any shifts when defendants wanted to terminate an employee and avoid the liability of unemployment benefits."

Ms. Speek said she was eventually able to find a job making about 50 percent less than the hospital position.

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