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Lawsuit against Molokai health center pending

Former employee sued last month over ‘unlawful’ termination

A former Molokai Community Health Center employee is suing the center over her “unlawful” termination allegedly stemming from the center’s delay in reporting that it had provided expired hepatitis vaccines to two children.

Lorna Keliipuleole, a former patient service associate/medical assistant, filed the lawsuit on May 4 in 2nd Circuit Court alleging there were “sham” disciplinary actions by the center between Sept. 17, 2020 and Oct. 13, 2020, that “ultimately served as the pretext” for her termination.

Keliipuleole said that on Aug. 4, 2020, she gave two children hepatitis vaccines that she later realized were expired when looking over their records. She immediately notified her supervisor, who said that she would report the incident to the health center’s administration and get back to Keliipuleole, according to the lawsuit.

Knowing the parents had not yet been notified, on Sept. 2, 2020, Keliipuleole took up the matter with two health center administrators, who instructed her to complete a specific report, which she did that day.

A health center investigation found that the supervisor violated the center policy for reporting and was later disciplined, the lawsuit said.

On Sept. 14, 2020, when the supervisor completed a report of the incident, the parents were notified, according to the lawsuit.

Shortly after, Keliipuleole had three written warnings put into her personnel filing by her supervisor, unbeknownst to her, the lawsuit said. Prior to that, Keliipuleole had never received any type of disciplinary action from the center from the time she’d been hired on Jan. 20, 2020.

The warnings involved allegedly violating a portion of the center’s security policy by leaving her computer screen on and unlocked and that Keliipuleole allegedly failed to obtain written consents from patients who were allegedly administered vaccines by herself. The third written warning dealt with an alleged medical assistant workflow violation.

A doctor also allegedly found issues with Keliipuleole that included sticking herself with a needle and reviewing her own medical records, the lawsuit says.

Keliipuleole said in the lawsuit that while she underwent training, she did not receive complete, comprehensive and/or adequate training and had no training in vaccine administration procedure.

“We firmly disagree with this former employee’s claims,” Molokai Community Health Center said in a statement. “As her alleged age discrimination claim was recently dismissed by a federal judge, we believe her current alternate claims will be dismissed in the state court. Future court proceedings will demonstrate that there was no discriminatory or retaliatory animus towards this former employee. As a recent (Department of Health) survey found, the Health Center continues to be in compliance with all federal requirements for federally qualified health centers.”

Along with the emailed statement, the center attached a letter from the state DOH’s Office of Health Care Assurance dated May 3, which noted the compliance with federal requirements for federally qualified health centers participating in the Medicare and/or Medicaid programs.

In 2019, the center came under scrutiny by the community over provider shortages and patient care, prompting calls for leadership changes and an investigation into the center.

A DOH investigation later found that the center was in violation in three areas, including failing to fulfill the federal requirement of being under the direction of a physician and not having a physician on its medical clinic staff, the lawsuit said.

Keliipuleole’s suit was filed by Oahu-based attorney Andrew Daisuke Stewart. It seeks unspecified damages along with the costs of the suit.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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