Nurse's suit accuses Shock Trauma in firing Ex-employee claims she was blamed for article about unlicensed surgeon

November 02, 1995|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

A former University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center administrator has filed a $2 million lawsuit alleging she was fired after hospital officials falsely accused her of being the source of a Baltimore Sun story about an unlicensed surgeon there.

Coleen Huntt-Kane, a nurse at Shock Trauma since January 1982 and a manager since 1984, filed the suit against the facility in Baltimore Circuit Court on Tuesday. A story about the surgeon, Dr. Arthur B. Boyd Jr., first appeared on the front page of The Sun on October 4; he had been fired the previous day after a reporter's inquiry.

In an interview yesterday, Ms. Huntt-Kane, 35, said she was informed that her position was being eliminated Sept. 18. But she said that the real reason for her dismissal was revealed on Oct. 9, when she was called into a hospital administrator's office, asked for her pager and keys, and accused of providing information about Dr. Boyd to The Sun.

"I never breached confidentiality," said Ms. Huntt-Kane, whose title was director of quality management/utilization review. "An important part of my job was confidentiality."

Joan S. Shnipper, director of public affairs for the University of Maryland Medical System, said Ms. Huntt-Kane was laid off as part of a long-discussed "consolidation" of several departments, including quality assurance, social work and material management. She said that although a conversation took place on Oct. 9, and Ms. Huntt-Kane was asked for her pager and keys, the nurse never was accused of leaking the story.

"She was not fired," Ms. Shnipper said. "And we do not believe at all that she provided information to the media. We believe this lawsuit is pure fiction."

Central to the dispute is a question of timing. Ms. Huntt-Kane's attorney, Marvin Ellin, says the hospital knew about a Sun investigation of Dr. Boyd "on or about Sept. 11" -- a week before she lost her job. Ms. Shnipper said the hospital was unaware of any Sun inquiry until Oct. 2.

Neither Douglas Birch, The Sun reporter who broke the story, nor John S. Carroll, the paper's editor, would comment on the suit or identify the source of the Boyd story. "If the question gets asked in a legal setting, we will think very carefully about how to respond," Mr. Carroll said.

Ms. Huntt-Kane said in the interview yesterday that she was contacted twice by Mr. Birch. On the first occasion, her children were at home and she was not able to talk, she said. On the second, "I told him 'no comment.' "

Ms. Huntt-Kane, who was injured in a June 2 auto accident and had not returned to work, will continue to receive disability checks, Ms. Shnipper said. Ms. Huntt-Kane said she had been doing hospital work at home.

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