DMC cops sue for $1M, say cuts make them unsafe

Joel Kurth
The Detroit News

A trio of Detroit Medical Center police officers is suing the system for $1 million apiece, alleging they endured retaliation for filing complaints about crime and violence on the hospital campus.

The lawsuit, filed this month in Wayne County Circuit Court, comes after state regulators in August found Detroit Receiving Hospital in violation of workplace safety laws because of “violent behavior by patients and visitors.” The officers who filed the complaint that led to the investigation have been harassed and berated and fear for their jobs, said their Detroit-based attorney, Leonard Mungo.

“We are tired of being put at risk,” one of the officers, Sgt. Rudolph Carey, told The Detroit News this summer. “Hospitals are supposed to be safe havens. If we, as the first line of defense, aren’t safe, how are we going to keep patients and their visitors safe?”

The DMC didn’t comment on the lawsuit, but said crime has decreased more than 35 percent at its Midtown campus since 2013 and is patrolled by more than 100 armed security officers who “provide 24/7 security.”

“The Detroit Medical Center is confident our security team is structured in a way that provides a secure environment for all employees, including our security officers, as well as others working and visiting our campuses,” the DMC said in a statement Friday.

It’s yet another issue at the DMC, which faces the loss of federal funding from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services unless chronic problems cleaning surgical instruments are fixed before Dec. 14.

The federal investigation into dirty instruments, along with a parallel one by state regulators, was prompted by a News series that chronicled 11 years of complaints from doctors and other staffers. The issues complicated operations from brain surgeries to spinal fusions, kept patients under anesthesia unnecessarily and canceled dozens of operations.

Mungo said cost-cutting by the DMC and its for-profit owner, Texas-based Tenet Healthcare, led to problems. The number of sterile technicians who clean instruments fell from 105 about 10 years ago, to 75 this summer, before climbing to 87 in recent weeks. Police officers say their force has dropped to about 160 from 190 three years ago.

“The bottom line is they are cutting the budget in areas that endanger people’s lives,” Mungo said Friday.

The DMC says no one was harmed by sterilization issues and security hasn’t decreased at the campus since 2014, when it blended its police force with security guards “without reduction in security presence.”

An investigation by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration into the officers’ complaints found there were 116 injuries at Detroit Receiving Hospital “related to combative patients/visitors” from 2012 to 2015. It recommended the DMC increase security in high-risk areas and rotate officers who are “targeted by repeat violent patients.”

The citation came with a $5,000 fine but the penalty has since been cut to $2,500. The DMC said it is working with the state to implement changes and “enhance our workplace violence program to accommodate our Crisis Center’s increase in behavioral health patient volume.”

“There are so many assaults, it’s pathetic,” one of the officers, Darrick Rushing, told The News this summer.

“You can’t go by a few weeks without another assault ... and there’s no plan to stop them.”

Mungo and the officers said the staff cuts were made when the longtime nonprofit was acquired in late 2010 by for-profit Vanguard Health Systems. The cuts accelerated in 2013 when Tenet bought Vanguard, the officers said. Security guards who replaced police officers make less money, have less training and are less motivated to stop troublemakers, the officers contended.

The DMC said 87 percent of crime on its campus is non-violent and all hospitals are patrolled by officers who carry guns, are trained in pressure point control techniques and have misdemeanor arrest powers.

The lawsuit claims the officers — Carey, Rushing and Pamela Sims — were “isolated, stigmatized and called a coward” for filing the state complaint. All are African-American and allege they were passed over for promotions to lesser qualified white officers.

The suit also alleges a white supervisor, who is named as a defendant, uses “racial number codes” to identify the race of employees. Blacks are a “4,” used to resemble an upside-down “b” for “black.” Whites are a “3,” when rotated looks like a “w” for “white,” the suit alleges.

The lawsuit alleges violations of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and the Whistleblowers Act.

The DMC said it is “committed to maintaining an environment of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.”

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