The parent companies of a Lewiston hospital where employees created a “wall of shame” of patients with disabilities apologized publicly today to the former employee who took the matter to the Maine Human Rights Commission.
“We deeply regret that this situation occurred,” Stephen Grubbs, president and CEO of Covenant Health, and Steven Jorgenson, president of St. Mary’s Health System, said in a written statement emailed to the Bangor Daily News. “[W]e sincerely apologize for the impact this situation has had on Ms. McCann.”
MyKayla McCann, who lived in Turner, discovered the wall of shame on the inside of a cabinet door on her first day of work as a laboratory technician assistant at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in June 2015.
Portions of patients’ private medical records had been cut and taped to the door. They “included information detailing patients’ sexual activity, genital dysfunction, bowel movements, bodily odors and other personal maladies,” according to a report by a human rights commission investigator.
The commission found reasonable grounds to believe that St. Mary’s discriminated against McCann, who is a member of a protected class because she has a disability, when it subjected her to a hostile environment created by her coworkers’ conduct. In addition to the wall, at least two employees looked at the private medical records of McCann, whom the hospital had previously treated, and used the information to mock her, she said.
When she reported her coworkers in 2016, she said it took the hospital three to four months to remove the display, conclude an investigation and punish her coworkers. This was “an unacceptable delay,” according to the commission. (The hospital said it removed the wall of shame “within a matter of weeks,” according to the investigator’s report.)
One coworker was fired and another received a warning. McCann, however, described her workplace still as “intolerable” and left her job in January 2017. She filed a human rights complaint the following month, and commissioners unanimously voted to support their investigator’s findings of a hostile environment this January.
St. Mary’s Health System is the parent of St. Mary’s hospital and a member of Covenant Health, a Catholic nonprofit based in Massachusetts. Neither Covenant Health nor St. Mary’s Health System “tolerate or condone discrimination or harassment of any kind, for any reason. We also do not tolerate any violation of our patients’ privacy or medical records,” Grubbs and Jorgenson said.
“It is important to know that St. Mary’s Health System took immediate action to investigate and address Ms. McCann’s concerns, and took appropriate disciplinary action for others who were involved. We are fully committed to ensuring this doesn’t happen again,” they said.
They added that their investigation found there were no other breaches in patient privacy.
Karen Sullivan, vice president of corporate communications for Covenant Health, did not immediately respond to a question about how many individual people’s records were depicted on the wall of shame.
“This incident is troubling. I am confident however that it is not reflective of the greater St. Mary’s family, which is deeply caring and committed to serving every member of our community with empathy and compassion,” Grubbs said.
Jorgensen said that “we are making every effort to learn from this incident and to ensure this type of behavior never occurs again.”
Maine Focus is a journalism and community engagement initiative at the Bangor Daily News. Questions? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.