Allison Stec, an advanced practice nurse at Cooper University Health Care in Camden, NJ, says she was subject to retaliation after blowing the whistle on a drunk doctor. The nurse claimed that the pediatric specialist would regularly show up to work impaired or intoxicated and that there were photos of the doctor face down at her desk in her office.
Now Stec is suing Cooper University Health Care for wrongful retaliation.
Her lawsuit claims that the doctor’s actions regularly put patients in jeopardy.
“At times, (the doctor) was incapable of formulating basic sentences,” said Stec’s lawyers. According to the suit, the doctor on occasion “could not spell basic words,” and was sometimes unable to stand without leaning against a wall. The doctor also made careless errors while allegedly under the influence, including treating the wrong patient and prescribing the wrong medication, before the pediatrician’s own untimely death.
Attorney Matthew Luber said Stec was following her duties as a nurse when she raised her concerns over the physician, identified only as “Dr. Doe” in the lawsuit. Luber added that the nurse had begun “waiving the red flag long-before ‘Dr. Doe’s’ tragic death” last year.
“It takes immense courage and strength to bring a matter like this to light,” Luber said.
Cooper has since denied the charges.
“The allegation that a Cooper physician treated patients while intoxicated or impaired is simply false,” the hospital system said in a written statement. “Cooper thoroughly investigated this matter. The New Jersey State Department of Health and the New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners also investigated the plaintiff’s allegations. Cooper will aggressively defend against the false allegations contained in this lawsuit.”
Stec’s lawsuit maintains that Cooper knew Dr. Doe had a substance abuse problem and that the nurse repeatedly raised her concerns with her direct supervisors that the doctor was endangering patients. Luber argues this exposes the hospital and its employees to potential liability.
The lawsuit also says that Cooper was told that it was “running its physicians and staff into the ground,” and that the doctor “needed help, and she needed it immediately.”
At one point, Stec told her supervisors that “under no circumstances should Dr. Doe be permitted to treat patients, to write prescriptions,” or to perform pediatric surgeries on patients.
“Someone was going to get hurt,” the lawsuit says, and “Cooper did nothing.”
Luber said the hospital’s decision to retaliate against Stec was “shameful but not surprising.”
The lawsuit says Cooper punished Stec for speaking up by making her working conditions more difficult, subjecting her to unreasonable performance standards, refusing to provide her with adequate support, and attempting to bury the complaints. The hospital also blocked her earned pay increases, according to the suit.
Stec took her complaints to the local medical board, the state department of health, and even the executive chief officers at the hospital. But instead of investigating the matter, Cooper “conducted a sham internal investigation and actively misled external investigators,” while falsely reporting that the issues raised by Stec were non-existent or were merely stress related.
The doctor, 42, was found dead in her home just three days after Stec issued her new complaints.
“Cooper did more than just turn a blind eye here. It knowingly put patients in danger. It failed to care for one of their own. It may have cost a doctor her life,” the lawsuit says.
Meghan Pazmino, another attorney for Stec, said they expect other Cooper employees to come forward and “acknowledge the organizational failures here, which date back to 2019.”
The suit seeks unspecified damages.