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Fired after helping a resident call 911, nursing home worker sues care facility


Fired after helping a resident call 911, nursing home worker sues care facility

Nov 28, 2023 | 5:37 pm ET
By Clark Kauffman
Fired after helping a resident call 911, nursing home worker sues care facility
Oakwood Specialty Care in Albia, Iowa. (Photo via Google Earth)

A certified nursing assistant who claims she was fired from a nursing home for helping an injured resident call 911 is now suing her former employer.

Kandus Jellison is suing Care Initiatives of West Des Moines, one of Iowa’s largest nursing home chains, in Polk County District Court. Jellison had worked at one of the chain’s nursing homes, Oakwood Specialty Care in Albia, since February 2021 and was fired in June 2022.

According to her lawsuit, on the morning of June 22, 2022, a “blue call light” sounded at Oakwood, signaling an emergency and that all available nurses were needed. Jellison and a coworker assisted a resident they were with and then responded to the emergency in the room of a resident identified in court records as “V.K.” Olivia Oshel, the director of nursing at Oakwood, was in the room along with three other workers.

The resident, who suffers from a bone density disorder, had fallen from his wheelchair and told Jellison that he had felt several pops in his shoulder which led him to believe he had broken something. The man allegedly told everyone present he wanted to go to the hospital. One of the workers told V. K. that she would get to work on that immediately, but Oshel allegedly stopped her and said that they’d treat the resident in-house first and would call for a mobile X-ray unit.

Jellison allegedly advised Oshel that if V. K. was asking to go to the hospital, he had the right to go, but Oshel balked. About two hours later, at 11:45 a.m., Jellison overheard V. K. in his room crying and calling out to her. He allegedly told Jellison he didn’t want to keep waiting for the mobile X-ray unit and wanted to be taken to the hospital immediately as he was in excruciating pain.

At that point in time, the lawsuit claims, Oakwood had yet to hear back from Biotech, the operators of the mobile X-ray unit, and there was no indication as to how much longer V.K. would have to wait. Jellison told him he had a right to go to the hospital and then helped him to the nurse’s station to call for an ambulance. A nurse there allegedly told Jellison that Oshel should be consulted before the call was made.

Jellison took V. K. to Oshel’s office and, while there, she updated Administrator Nicole Behrens on the situation. According to the lawsuit, Behrens and Oshel then consulted privately inside Oshel’s office, after which Oshel emerged and informed Jellison and V.K. that a mobile X-ray would have to be done before an ambulance was summoned.

Jellison allegedly protested, insisted that V. K. be taken to the hospital as he was in severe pain, and then asked Oshel and Behrens whether V. K. had a legal right to go to the hospital. Oshel allegedly told Jellison to go do her job, and to let her do her own job. Jellison then turned to V. K. and asked whether he understood what was going on. V. K. nodded in the affirmative, at which point Jellison advised him to go to his room, dial 911, and ask for an ambulance.

The lawsuit alleges that Oshel then screamed at Jellison, saying, “Get the f— out of my building until you can do your f—ing job right.” Jellison protested, at which point Behrens allegedly motioned to her, indicating she was going to escort Jellison out of the building. Jellison then grabbed her keys and phone from her locker and left the building.

State substantiated Jellison’s complaint 

Later, Jellison phoned the business office manager to ask for the number of the Iowa Department of Inspection, Appeals Licensing, which regulates Iowa care facilities, and the corporate office of Care Initiatives. At the request of the business office manager, Jellison returned to the facility where Behrens allegedly told her, “You were told to leave, so now you need to go.” Jellison and Behrens allegedly went into an office to talk, at which point Behrens and Oshel called the police.

By that time, V. K. had summoned an ambulance, which was dispatched to the facility. The police arrived and an officer explained to Jellison that she was fired and, if she ever returned, she’d be arrested for trespassing.

Later, a company representative allegedly called Jellison and explained she was not fired but was suspended pending an investigation. Jellison then reported the matter to DIAL, where officials promised an investigation of their own. State records indicate the agency eventually substantiated Jellison’s complaint against Oakwood.

One week after the incident, Jellison was notified by Care Initiatives that she had been fired for failing to follow a supervisor’s direct orders. Her lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, the infliction of emotional distress, and the willful violation of Iowa laws that prohibit employers from disciplining a person for either reporting dependent-adult abuse or assisting with a state investigation into alleged abuse.

The lawsuit claims that through their actions, Care Initiatives and Oakwood denied a resident the opportunity to participate in their health care decisions and treatment, denied interventions necessary to maintain a resident’s well-being, and denied a resident from communicating with other people of their own choosing – all of which are rights codified in the Iowa Administrative Code.

Care Initiatives and Oakwood have yet to file a response to the lawsuit. Co-defendant Oshel has denied the allegations, and co-defendant Behrens has not yet filed a response.

Feds fined Oakwood; Jellison denied benefits

The state inspectors who investigated the incident at Oakwood reported that after V.K. insisted on going to the hospital, Oshel had yelled at the staff from her office, saying, “We are not sending him to the hospital.”

One employee told inspectors Oshel had cursed at Jellison or other workers, adding that Oshel “was angry with us (and) we were just trying to get him help.” A licensed practical nurse told allegedly inspectors Oshel was “yelling at everyone right in front of the residents,” and wouldn’t let any of the staff call 911.

The state agency cited Oakwood for failing to provide adequate nursing supervision and 13 other regulatory violations. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services imposed a $95,761 penalty against the home, which was in addition to a $115,016 penalty imposed earlier in the year for other violations.

Currently, Oakwood has a one-star rating from CMS for its overall performance — the federal agency’s lowest possible score.

After her firing last year, Jellison applied for unemployment benefits. Care Initiatives contested the application, which led to a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Sean Nelson.

According to Oakwood officials who testified at the unemployment hearing, after the conflict over V.K.’s treatment, Jellison yelled, “We don’t provide care, and this is a s—y facility,” and then used an expletive to describe her superiors.

Nelson ruled that Jellison lacked the same level of medical expertise as the charge nurse and the director of nursing, but “was so confident in her assessment” of the resident that she contradicted her superiors and used profanity to describe them. “Such behavior is not reasonable and constitutes misconduct,” Nelson ruled in denying Jellison benefits.

After the ruling, Jellison told Iowa Capital Dispatch she didn’t use profanity to describe her superiors and wasn’t second-guessing anyone’s medical judgment and was instead trying to inform the resident of his legal right to seek treatment at a hospital.

“I said (to the resident), ‘You have a cell phone in your room. I want you to go to your room and I want you to dial 911, and I want you to tell them to dispatch an ambulance here to get you,’” Jellison told Capital Dispatch. “And that’s exactly what he did. It’s not like I gave him a phone, or that I dialed 911 for him. He did it himself.”

Created in 1989, Care Initiatives claims to be the largest single operator of nursing homes in Iowa. The company says it serves nearly 2,800 residents in 43 skilled-nursing facilities, eight assisted living centers, three senior housing apartment complexes and six hospice locations.