The Army has agreed to a monetary settlement with a former infection control analyst at one of the busiest military hospitals, after federal investigators found that she was punished for reporting dangerous health and safety conditions for patients to a group that accredits hospitals.
The settlement with Teresa Gilbert was announced Tuesday by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency that looks into whistleblowers’ claims of retaliation. Spokesman Nick Schwellenbach described the settlement, which includes compensatory damages, as “significant and well deserved.”
The special counsel found that Gilbert was subjected to escalating reprisals by the Army after she reported infection control failures at Womack Army Medical Center in Fayetteville, N.C. last year to inspectors for the independent Joint Commission before its scheduled visit to the hospital.
Gilbert told the Joint Commission that the hospital had not addressed long-standing problems with unsterilized instruments, failures to disinfect medical devices, and supervisors who lacked the right training and education in infection control, according to the special counsel’s office.
Her disclosures had far-reaching effects on the hospital. As a result of the commission’s findings and an Army investigation, hospital operations were shut down for more a week, senior leadership were relieved of command, and several others managers were disciplined.
But in the meantime, Gilbert was subjected to retaliation from her bosses, the special counsel found. They barred her from any participation in improving infection control at the hospital, slashed her hours and reprimanded her for being absent without leave for missing the hours her manager had removed from her schedule.
Eventually she received a notice that she had been recommended for removal for accessing a patient’s medical information, a charge the special counsel said was unfounded.
Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner praised Gilbert, who is now retired from the government.
“The Army should have focused on correcting the problems she identified, rather than retaliating against her,” Lerner said in a statement. “However, in the end, the Army did the right thing by settling her claim. Ms. Gilbert’s case underscores why whistleblower protections are vital.”
A spokeswoman for Army Surgeon General LTG Patricia Horoho confirmed the settlement but said there was “no finding or admission of wrongdoing by either Womack Army Medical Center or any personnel.”
“Army Medicine takes seriously all concerns regarding patient safety, and the issues raised were thoroughly investigated and appropriately acted upon,” spokeswoman Maria L. Tolleson said.
Gilbert, in an e-mail, said, “As an Army employee, I was always told that there is an open door policy. However, when I found deficiencies in the leadership, they tried to shut me down. It was horrible for me and my family, but I stood steadfast by the truth, and I hope others who find things that are wrong will have the courage to stand for what is the right thing to do.”