November 17, 2019
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Former Maine CDC director ordered to surrender medical records to lawyers defending the state in whistle-blower case

Daryn Slover | Sun Journal
Daryn Slover | Sun Journal
Sharon Leahy-Lind, former director of the Maine Center for Disease Control's Division of Local Public Health, sent a complaint of discrimination to the Maine Human Rights Commission alleging, among other things, that her bosses ordered her to destroy public documents.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A former Maine Center for Disease Control division director who has filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit against the Maine Department of Health and Human Services must hand over more than three years worth of her diaries, medical records and mental health records, as well as the names of any doctor or mental health professional she’s seen since 2011.

The department’s lawyers had sought medical information for Sharon Leahy-Lind from as far back as 2008, but a judge ruled that they were entitled to only the information gathered since 2011, the year before she started as division director with the CDC.

The judge denied the department’s request for other medical documents, including those that show all of Leahy-Lind’s health-related expenses incurred since 2012 and any correspondence with health or life insurance companies since 2012.

Leahy-Lind’s lawyer, Cynthia Dill, had argued that the information was irrelevant, privileged and too broad.

“From my perspective, it’s a fishing expedition to look for ways to undermine either my client’s credibility or somehow suggest that she came to the job suffering from some condition that, perhaps, made her more sensitive to a work environment that an otherwise hardy individual could endure,” she said. “The facts are that Sharon had never seen a psychiatrist or psychologist and so that theory is not going anywhere.”

Leahy-Lind has alleged that her bosses at the Maine CDC ordered her to shred public documents and then harassed and discriminated against her when she refused. Her allegations came to light last year when she filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission. In October, she filed a federal whistle-blower suit against CDC Director Sheila Pinette and DHHS, which oversees the CDC.

A CDC office manager has since sought to join the lawsuit and Dill has asked to add CDC Deputy Director Christine Zukas and Office of Minority Health and Health Equity Director Lisa Sockabasin as defendants. The judge has not yet ruled on that motion.

The judge’s medical information ruling came earlier this week. Lawyers for DHHS declined to comment on it Thursday, saying it’s the department’s policy not to comment on pending litigation.

Dill said a request for medical information is not unusual, particularly “in light of [Leahy-Lind’s] allegations that her leave from work was caused by the actions of the defendants and that she was constructively discharged because of an intolerable work environment.” However, she said, the scope of the request was unusual.

“I can’t recall another case where communication with a life insurance provider was requested or an itemization of every health-related expense,” Dill said.

Leahy-Lind’s allegations led the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee last year to ask its Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to look into document-shredding and grant program issues at the CDC.

OPEGA’s December report noted a host of problems, including supervisors who ordered the destruction of public documents, workers who created documents specifically to fulfill a Sun Journal Freedom of Access Act request, funding criteria that was changed during the Healthy Maine Partnerships selection process, funding scores that were changed just before the final selection, a critical scoring sheet that has vanished and a tribal partnership contract for which OPEGA couldn’t discern who was responsible.

Money, the investigation found, may have gone where it shouldn’t have.

Since that report, the Government Oversight Committee has been trying to determine why public records were ordered destroyed and what should be done to prevent it from happening again.

OPEGA also is expected to look into the behavior of management and treatment of employees at DHHS.

 



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