DonQuenick Joppy says she experienced racism and unfair working conditions while working as a nurse at The Medical Center of Aurora, one of the top hospitals in Colorado. The facility eventually fired her for her alleged role in the death of a 97-year-old patient, which stripped her of her nursing license. Unable to make a living, Joppy says the experience left her nearly homeless. She is now suing her former employer for wrongful termination.
Her Side of the Story
According to the legal complaint filed on behalf of Joppy, she was subject to hostile working conditions during her time at the Medical Center and was regularly dismissed and ignored in favor of her white colleagues.
“It’s wild,” Joppy said “My life has been turned upside down. … I never killed anyone. I’m a great nurse.”
The complaint alleges the facility retaliated against her after she voiced her complaints by filing “groundless” charges against her. She is seeking damages and restitution from the hospital and two top officials.
Joppy was an award-winning nurse before she lost her job. She was nominated for the Daisy Award three times and was honored by the American Heart Association for performing CPR and saving a patient’s life.
She received rave reviews from her patients in the ICU where one person called her “absolutely amazing.” Records show she also received a favorable review from her employer after her first year working in Aurora.
The suit details some of the abuse she regularly experienced on the job. As the only black nurse on staff, she claims she was often yelled at and criticized for things that non-black nurses were not. She was assigned three patients in the ICU with no backup when the nurse-to-patient ratio should have been two to one, according to the suit.
However, her complaints went unanswered.
When she raised her concerns with her supervisors, she was disciplined for improper body language and taking a harsh tone. She was told to “remain respectful towards the charge nurses and any other employee within the hospital.”
In one instance, a charge nurse, Michael Oleszczuk, sent an email to staff members announcing an opportunity to get training on caring for patients with heart problems. When Joppy expressed interest, Oleszczuk allegedly told her working with heart patients required “much deeper critical thinking and much better organizational skills.”
On another occasion, Oleszczuk allegedly told Joppy that she was good at cleaning and that she should “clean his house and clip his dog’s toenails,” Joppy claims.
A white family also accused her of stealing a patient’s credit card and using it to buy a stethoscope. After failing to conduct an investigation, the hospital restricted her access to the locker room and limited her to a designated section of the ICU.
Human Resources eventually thanked her for not making a “big fuss” about it.
In 2019, Joppy was asked to stay late and assist with a terminally ill patient’s “end-of-life” instructions, which came from the doctor at the family’s request.
The instructions were to remove all the supporting equipment while keeping the patient with septic shock and “non-survivable” multi-organ failure alive. The doctor told another nurse about the instructions, and that nurse delegated the doctor’s orders to Joppy.
She called a respiratory therapist to remove the patient’s ventilator, but they were busy at the time and showed Joppy how to turn off the respirator instead.
Joppy followed the directions, but when the therapist came by later to disconnect the machine, he forgot to remove the intubation tube, which was his responsibility, according to the lawsuit. A short while later, another nurse came by and cuffed the tube, which led to the patient’s death.
The autopsy says the patient died of natural causes, including septic shock caused by pneumonia and bowel infarction.
After conducting an investigation, the hospital fired Joppy for completing the measures without an order in the patient’s chart and not waiting on the respiratory therapist to arrive.
She then lost her nursing license and ability to work, but her problems didn’t end there.
Joppy was charged with manslaughter, negligent death of an at-risk person, and neglect of an at-risk person a year after she was fired, the lawsuit says.
But nearly a year after the attorney general decided to prosecute Joppy, all charges were dismissed “in the interest of justice.”
“I took this case on because I thought it was particularly egregious that they would do this to someone’s life,” said Jennifer Robinson, Joppy’s attorney. “She’s pretty much homeless now and hasn’t recovered since all of this happened. Who is going to hire a nurse who has manslaughter charges against her, even if they are dropped? It’s just not cool to treat people this way.”
The hospital has since denied the charges.
“The lawsuit that has been filed against The Medical Center of Aurora is without merit and is a tactic by a disgruntled former colleague,” said Rachel Robinson, the Medical Center of Aurora’s director of marketing and public relations.
Robinson also said that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment “made the independent decision to investigate the occurrence involving Ms. Joppy on its own.”
“We have the utmost respect for our patients and their family’s end-of-life decisions, and we work hard to honor those decisions,” Rachel Robinson continued. “When processes designed to ensure the comfort and dignity of patients are not followed, we take appropriate action, including reporting to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, as required.”