LEWISTON — Officials at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center on Thursday apologized to a former employee who claimed she was discriminated against because of a disability, and that employees kept a “Wall of Shame” of patients’ health records – including photos of genitalia – in an apparent effort to ridicule them.

But the hospital took issue with a commission’s findings that the hospital did not address Mykayla McCann’s complaints in a timely matter.

For more than a year, McCann was subjected to an environment so hostile at St. Mary’s she felt she had no choice but to leave her job, according to a report by the Maine Human Rights Commission.

McCann, who lived in Turner while she was working as a laboratory technician assistant at St. Mary’s, filed a complaint with the commission in February 2017. She said the hospital retaliated against her when she complained to supervisors that employees posted confidential patient medical records for employees to see.

The patient records, cut and arranged in a collage and posted on the inside of a cabinet door, included information detailing unnamed patients’ sexual activity, genital dysfunction, bowel movements, bodily odors and other conditions or maladies.

It was a display employees labeled the “Wall of Shame.”

According to commission investigators, the collage of records was reported to the hospital in September 2016 and as of Dec. 26, 2016, it remained posted, evidenced by a digital photo of the “wall” with a time stamp from that date.

The hospital claims the wall was removed Dec. 27, but evidence presented during the investigation – including a third-party witness statement – indicates the wall remained posted until January 2017.

According to the commission report, the time between when the wall was reported and removed was “an unacceptable delay.”

On Thursday, hospital officials released a statement acknowledging the problem, apologizing to McCann, assuring that disciplinary action was taken against those employees involved, but also taking issue with the commission report, saying the hospital took “immediate action to investigate and address Ms. McCann’s concerns.”

McCann saw the display on her first day on the job in June 2016, but because she was a new employee, she did not report it because she worried she would be targeted.

She was so concerned about harassment, she said, that when she later needed medical care, she sought treatment at a different hospital to ensure her co-workers did not know about her health issues.

Eventually, McCann complained to a supervisor about the collage of patient records, which only worsened the ongoing harassment, she told the commission. When McCann reported the behavior to the hospital’s human resources department, no action was immediately taken.

According to the commission investigation, St. Mary’s missed multiple deadlines to reply to McCann’s complaint to the commission, failed to provide requested contact information of witnesses and ultimately responded to McCann’s claims only through legal counsel. No one at the hospital agreed to be interviewed by investigators, or to provide any information directly to the commission.

McCann, who had been a patient at St. Mary’s in 2015, claimed her co-workers inappropriately accessed her medical records. She figured that out when her co-workers started making comments about her disabilities, which she had not disclosed to anyone with whom she worked.

McCann took a leave of absence from her job in April 2016, returning in June. She told commission investigators that when she returned, she felt co-workers treated her differently. Three lab techs in particular asked McCann questions such as, “Do you drink a lot?”; “Do you party a lot?”; and “Do you drink and drive?” And, McCann said, one of the lab techs told her someone had overdosed and asked her, “Isn’t that weird?”

Those specific questions, McCann said, made her suspect her co-workers had accessed her electronic medical files, and she said she complained to the hospital. The hospital denied having received that complaint.

Then, in September, McCann again complained to a supervisor that she believed employees had accessed her medical files, but the hospital kept no written record of that complaint. However, commission investigators determined McCann and her supervisor had a conversation about her disability at that time. During that conversation, McCann reported the existence of the “Wall of Shame.”

After McCann disclosed the collage of patient records, the hospital agreed to investigate her complaint about her records.

The hospital denied that McCann disclosed the wall in September, telling commission investigators through its legal counsel that the first notice it had of the wall was in October 2016.

According to the commission investigation, St. Mary’s did investigate McCann’s claims that co-workers had accessed her medical files and determined three employees had done so. The hospital ultimately fired one employee and disciplined two others.

In their statement Thursday, St. Mary’s officials said their “investigation found that there were no other breaches in patient privacy,” saying in a subsequent email none of the items on the wall revealed any patient’s actual identity.

Before St. Mary’s concluded its investigation and disciplined the three employees, McCann told investigators she was experiencing tension with her co-workers.

In October 2016, she texted her supervisor that she felt uncomfortable working with certain co-workers and asked to be separated from them. She then sent a text message the following weekend saying they were working out a resolution among themselves.

A week later, McCann’s supervisor checked in with her to ask whether the conflict had improved. According to the hospital, McCann reported the situation was “awkward,” but she provided no indication there had been serious, ongoing concerns related to disability harassment.

In November, McCann met with her supervisor about the status of the investigation into her medical records, and was told an audit indicated co-workers had accessed her files but the hospital was still working to confirm the breach.

McCann asked for a list of employees who accessed her files, but was denied because the investigation was “ongoing.”

When she did not hear from her supervisor by Dec. 6, McCann emailed the hospital’s director of human resources detailing what she had already told her direct supervisor about employees who had accessed her files and mocked her “for what they think is a disability.”

In that message, McCann wrote she believed the continued taunting because of her disability was a violation of the law.

She wrote: “This is a disability harassment and I want it to stop. I also want the illegal looking into my records to stop. What do I need to make this happen?”

The hospital discharged one of the lab techs Dec. 27, warned a second co-worker and told commission investigators it removed the patient records collage. Then, McCann told MHRC investigators, co-workers intensified their harassment in retaliation for the lab tech’s discharge. Investigators found, however, that while co-workers inquired about the job termination and whispered about it in front of McCann, McCann could not provide any other examples of increased harassment, and that “normal workplace gossip does not amount to unlawful harassment.”

A week later, McCann met with her supervisor, the hospital’s risk management director and the lab director and discussed the discipline of her co-workers. She was given a copy of the electronic records audit, and the names of the three employees who accessed her files.

In January 2017, McCann submitted a letter of resignation, citing a hostile work environment and violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the hospital’s failure to take corrective action and “intolerable” work conditions. According to the hospital, she submitted the letter after asking for the names of all employees who had accessed her medical records. When she was told the information was not available, McCann walked out of the office before the human resources director could read the letter.

According to the hospital, the letter contained new allegations of retaliation that required investigation, and McCann was invited to delay her resignation and discuss the situation with the human resources director.

McCann declined, and filed her complaint the following month with the Maine Human Rights Commission.

In January this year, the commission found reasonable grounds to believe the hospital discriminated against McCann based on her disability by subjecting her to a hostile work environment. But no reasonable grounds were found to believe that the hospital retaliated against her after she complained about the collage of patient records.

The investigation also concluded McCann was routinely subjected to her co-workers’ offensive conduct, noting that the information “posted on Shame Wall was intended to demean and humiliate and included supposed ‘jokes’ about the hospital’s physically and mentally disabled patients.”

That exposure, according to the commission, and the stress she encountered likely impacted her work performance, and the fact she “felt she could not continue her job, due at least in part to this stress, is evidence it was disruptive.”

In its ruling supporting the finding that St. Mary’s discriminated against McCann, the commission recommended the claim be conciliated under the process outlined in state law, which requires confirmed discrimination be eliminated through an informal conference between the parties. Anything that is discussed as part of that process is confidential unless the parties agree to make it public, and nothing discussed may be used in any future civil or criminal case unless there is a breach of agreement by the parties.

As of Thursday, no lawsuit had been filed in the case in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn.

In his statement, Steven Jorgensen, president of St. Mary’s Health System, said “an incident such as this weighs heavily on the St. Mary’s family of employees.”

But, he said: “I have every confidence that our health system will continue to respond to all employee issues in a manner that promotes human value while honoring our core values of compassion and integrity. On behalf of the entire St. Mary’s family, we are making every effort to learn from this incident and to ensure this type of behavior never occurs again.”

McCann’s lawyer, Verne Paradis, declined comment Thursday.

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