Texas regulators have launched an investigation into new allegations that a beleaguered public hospital in Dallas fired a social worker after she filed a complaint that her superiors had asked her to violate safety rules.
The investigation by the Department of State Health Services accompanies a lawsuit by former Parkland Memorial Hospital social worker Sandra Palmer, who has accused her supervisors of asking her to transcribe medication vouchers, discuss pharmaceuticals with patients and “medication options with doctors,” the Dallas Morning News reported.
The probe is the latest in a string of problems the hospital has faced in recent years. It comes on the heels of a report by federally mandated safety monitors who said in February that unsupervised doctors in residency training were performing invasive procedures, and sometimes doing so incorrectly. Monitors also said at least one death had occurred when a nurse injected a patient with a narcotic without receiving an order to do so from a doctor. The hospital has also been cited repeatedly for allowing caregivers to exceed their authority.
Parkland is currently conducting an overhaul ordered by federal regulators. Should the hospital fail to carry through, it could be forced to close.
In her lawsuit, Palmer said she questioned her supervisors about whether she was authorized to discuss medication or transcribe pharmaceutical vouchers.
Parkland officials declined to discuss the case or the pending litigation. Spokeswoman Candace White issued a statement that the hospital has “confidence in the justice system” and expects the court “will arrive at the right result.”
Department of State Health Services spokeswoman Christine Mann said social workers are not supposed to do the things described by Palmer.
“It’s never appropriate for a social worker to transcribe medication vouchers or to make recommendations regarding medication options or dosages,” Mann told the Dallas Morning News. “It is not within the scope of practice.”
Palmer said in her suit that she complained in writing to the hospital’s interim chief executive on Dec. 20 about the orders she had received. Dr. Thomas Royer instructed her not to engage in any activities that could endanger patients’ lives. But later, after meeting with four managers, she said she was “directed to continue transcribing prescription vouchers.”
The following day, Palmer said she filed complaints with state regulators and an accreditation agency. According to the lawsuit, Palmer was fired after she took this action, a violation of state law that prohibits retaliation against “a public employee who in good faith reports a violation of the law.”
At least two other Parkland employees have sued the hospital in recent months. It has also been sued for alleged misconduct related to the death of a Dallas County jail inmate.