Nurse files whistleblower suit against Detroit Medical Center over firing

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A nurse has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Detroit Medical Center, alleging she was wrongly terminated for speaking out about conditions at her hospital during the COVID-19 crisis.

Nurse Kenisa Barkai said the DMC fired her after posting this video of her gearing up to see a COVID-19 patient inside Sinai-Grace hospital.

Kenisa Barkai said DMC fired her on March 27, about 10 days after the Sinai-Grace Hospital worker posted a social media video of herself gearing up from head-to-toe to see a coronavirus patient, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in Wayne County Circuit Court. 

The seven-second clip aired the same day Barkai met with the hospital nursing director and “expressed her dismay with facility safety and how the lack of staffing resulted in prospective dangers to patients, both under her care and at Sinai-Grace generally,” the document said.

Barkai alleges she repeatedly complained to supervisors weeks before the pandemic about a lack of personal protective equipment and understaffing, “which included … telling these high-ranking individuals she would make a report to proper government agencies about potential violations,” according to the filing.

Those concerns were not addressed, said her attorney, Jim Rasor.

DMC reportedly told Barkai her termination was linked to violating its social media policy, the nurse’s attorney wrote, but the move was “pretext for Defendant’s retaliatory conduct to silence Plaintiff and, upon information and belief, discourage other staff from reporting unlawful acts or code violations and from speaking to the press.”

Reached for comment Tuesday night, DMC spokesman Brian Taylor told the Detroit News “we don't comment on litigation.”

Barkai’s lawsuit, which seeks at least $25,000 in damages, claims her firing violated Michigan’s Whistle Blowers Protection Act.

The Woodhaven resident had worked at Sinai-Grace since 2011 and did not have a disciplinary record, Rasor said.

Her situation “exposed how broken” the system was at the hospital, he said, noting the facility has had issues including a report of bodies stored in vacant rooms that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said state regulators are investigating.

A health care provider “can’t retaliate against a nurse whose sole goal was to advise the authorities of inappropriate actions that were jeopardizing patient care,” Rasor said Tuesday night. “They can’t fire her during the biggest pandemic for which her services were crucially needed.”

Last week, Taylor told The News that Detroit has experienced significant mortality rates that have created capacity issues at area morgues and funeral homes. He also said Sinai-Grace has been hit harder than most other Metro Detroit medical centers because it is the only hospital in northwest Detroit and surrounded by nursing homes.

DMC has also said its personal protective equipment use and conservation are directed by the state and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.