- Associated Press - Saturday, December 24, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - A jury has awarded nearly $550,000 to a former psychiatric hospital worker who said officials retaliated against him when he reported patient neglect.

Michael Quayle was an administrator at Western State Hospital in Lakewood when he reported in 2014 that meat to be served to patients had expired and was improperly stored. Instead of disciplining the cooking staff, hospital officials retaliated against Quayle, first by moving him to a desk job and then firing him, Quayle’s lawyer James Beck said late Friday.

The Department of Social and Health Services, which runs the hospital, failed to complete many of the investigations into concerns Quayle raised, but those that were conducted confirmed his claims, he said. The concerns included that the Treatment and Recovery Center didn’t follow a number of food-related hospital policies and that the security department failed to properly respond to certain staff comments.

After two days of deliberations, a Pierce County jury on Friday found in favor of Quayle and awarded him $548,030 in damages.

“Until Western State Hospital starts protecting its employees from retaliation, there will not be adequate protections against patient abuse and neglect at the hospital,” Beck said in a statement. “Patient care starts with providing a safe and lawful work environment for employees.”

Agency spokesman Adolfo Capestany did not immediately respond to a message sent Saturday seeking comment on the jury verdict.

The 800-bed facility, the state’s largest psychiatric hospital, has been under scrutiny by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over patient safety violations. Officials must fix a list of problems by early next year or lose millions of federal funds.

Quayle was hired as “habilatative plan administrator” in June 2014 in part to ensure compliance with a previous federal court order that outlined the constitutionally minimum treatment necessary for patients housed in a unit for the developmentally disabled.

Soon after his appointment, he received a promotion, Beck said. When he discovered expired meat that was improperly stored in an area that prepares food for patients, he reported it to officials. In response, he was subjected to a hostile work environment, reassigned and then fired, Beck said.

This type of treatment of whistleblowers is common, said nursing supervisor Paul Vilja.

“As a multiple whistleblower, I know firsthand that retaliation will come,” Vilja told The Associated Press on Saturday. “They reassign you while they conduct an ever broadening investigation. Actually my current assignment, for almost a decade, resulted from such a reassignment. To this day I have never been told the investigation has concluded.”

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Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle


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