Health & Medicine

Former Sutter IT exec said management fired him for reporting patient care failures

A former Sutter Health IT executive said the company fired him because he told an investigator that management could have avoided a systemwide computer failure in May 2018 if they had taken his advice to install backup infrastructure for electronic medical records, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Sacramento Superior Court.

Stuart James said that Sutter not only wrongfully terminated him in July 2018 but that the health provider also went on to defame him by naming him as one of three information technology executives terminated in the fallout from the outage. Others cited in the articles were Jonathan Manis, senior vice president and chief information officer, and Randy Davis, director of information services finance.

James said he “has not been able to secure commensurate and regular employment, as a result of his termination in connection to the outage incident.” He said he was working as a chief information officer for 1447-bed hospital system in North Carolina in 2013 when Sutter recruited him, luring him with a $10,000 sign-on bonus.

Lisa Page, Sutter’s vice president of communications, said Monday that James did leave the company in July 2018, along with two other IT leaders.

“We vigorously dispute Mr. James’ claims, which are completely unfounded,” Page said. “The Sutter Health Board was given an accurate and thorough briefing on the cause of the outage from independent investigators after a thorough outside review of the situation.”

Lawrance Bohm and Victoria Gutierrez, James’ attorneys, did not respond to a request for comment. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday.

Page said Sutter does not comment on personnel matters, particularly when litigation is pending, but company leaders value their diverse workforce and encourage their employees to share all safety concerns.

Page did not say whether Sutter had backup infrastructure in place at the time of the outage or whether the company now has such a system in place.

In the lawsuit, James said he gave Sutter’s chief technology officer a 124-page playbook that emphasized the need for a backup infrastructure for the company’s electronic medical records. The playbook, prepared by consultants James engaged, said access to all medical information would be lost in a catastrophic event.

That’s what happened, the complaint said, on May 14, 2018, when a fire suppression system activated and caused a total shutdown of Sutter’s data center. That meant the company could not access patient health information, medical documentation, specific medication lists, forcing Sutter hospitals and surgery centers to reschedule many procedures for 27 hours.

During a June 4, 2018, interview, James stated in court records, he told an independent investigator from PricewaterhouseCooper that the “operations side” failed to plan for and practice procedures necessary to ensure patient safety during a network outage, and he said the Information Services team had done the best job it could, given the funding limitations imposed by Sutter leadership.

James cited one conversation between Manis and Sutter Chief Executive Officer Sarah Krevans, in which she asked Manis: ‘What are we going to tell the board?”

“The truth,” Manis replied.

Krevans responded: “In that case, I can’t put you in front of the board.”

Of the three executives let go in the wake of the investigation, James was the only African American and the only one whom security escorted from the building, according to the lawsuit.

Following James’ departure, a company representative was quoted in articles announcing an interim chief information officer as “a highly qualified leader,” the complaint stated, implying that James was terminated because he was incompetent or unqualified.

In addition, James said in the complaint, Sutter’s human resources leader Cindy Jeter told staff that “Stuart did some shady stuff,” a description that had “a ripple effect” on his career.

James alleged that Sutter violated eight state laws in firing him, including California’s health and safety code encouraging health care workers to report unsafe patient care and hospital conditions, a labor code that does the same and race discrimination statutes. He is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, payment of his attorneys’ fees and civil penalties.

Follow more of our reporting on Health Care Workers

See all 10 stories
Related stories from Sacramento Bee

  Comments