A decision handed down Tuesday by Maine’s highest court has revived a lawsuit against a Scarborough nursing home filed by a former employee who alleged that she was terminated in retaliation for raising staffing and safety complaints to her managers.

The case is the fifth complaint of retaliation against a whistleblower at Pine Point Center in recent years, and a sixth is pending with the Maine Human Rights Commission, said an attorney involved in the case.

“I’ve seen a pattern of this,” said Old Orchard Beach lawyer Guy D. Loranger, who represented former Pine Point employees in each of the whistleblower cases. “They fire employees who complain.”

The decision Tuesday by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court centers on Karen Cormier, who was fired in January 2012 from the Pine Point Center, where she had worked as a certified nursing assistant for 10 years.

Pine Point is a 58-bed facility for long- and short-term care. It is owned by Genesis Health Care, a national for-profit company that runs 10 other similar facilities in Maine. Genesis did not respond to two requests for comment.

In her lawsuit, which was filed in Cumberland County Superior Court, Cormier alleged that beginning in 2009, Genesis changed its staffing routine to reduce the number of CNAs working in her unit to three or four per shift, down from four or five, according to the Law Court’s ruling.


Pine Point Center has won an overall five out of five stars from Medicare’s nursing home rating system, with no serious staffing, health or fire safety marks against it, and has not received a penalty or fine in at least the last three years, although Medicare scored it only at two out of five stars for quality measures, such as how many patients experience moderate to severe pain and incontinence.

The staff reduction, Cormier contended in the lawsuit, made it more difficult for CNAs, who help residents with mobility, using the bathroom, eating meals, hygiene tasks and other basic elements of care, reach all of their patients quickly when they press a call button for help.

Cormier told managers at the facility that because of the delays, residents may become impatient and attempt to get out of bed or move around their rooms unassisted, increasing their likelihood of falling down, which can be catastrophic for elderly or frail residents.

Beginning in the spring of 2011 and then on several occasions, Cormier brought her concerns to the director of nursing and different charge nurses, reporting that residents were frustrated with the delay in CNA response times, according to the lawsuit.

Then on Dec. 28, 2011, the facility lost power at a time when only three CNAs were working, and Cormier complained to another manager that there were not enough CNAs to help residents get up for dinner while also dealing with the power outage.

Three days later, the director of nursing approached Cormier after overhearing from another worker that Cormier hit a resident on the hand, according to the lawsuit. Cormier signed a statement saying she tried to hold the hand of a combative resident so the resident would not strike her. She was suspended while managers investigated. Cormier then realized that the statement was inaccurate – that she had not, in fact, worked on the day the patient allegedly was slapped.


She was ultimately fired on Jan. 4, 2012.

After Cormier’s lawsuit was filed in December 2012, a Superior Court judge issued a summary judgment for the nursing home, finding that there was not a demonstrated causal relationship between the complaints about patient care and safety, and her firing after the alleged slapping incident.

Cormier appealed, and the company argued in response that it was not possible for Pine Point’s administrator, Leslie Currier, to have retaliated against Cormier because Currier was never aware of her complaints. In their ruling on Tuesday, however, the justices balked at this assertion, noting that Currier had at an earlier time sent a staff-wide memo setting out an expectation for employees to bring staffing concerns to their managers, who would in turn bring them to Currier. The justices also pointed out the rapid timeline of Cormier’s dismissal.

The Law Court remanded the case to the Superior Court for further action.

Loranger, Cormier’s attorney, has settled two similar cases of alleged improper dismissal from Pine Point out of court, is currently pursuing three others in court, he said.

“Genesis is a huge company – they own many, many nursing homes,” Loranger said. “They’re profit-motivated. They cut back on staff. They work to the state minimums. Just because you’re meeting the minimum doesn’t mean you’re meeting patient care.”


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