No verdict yet in Granite City retaliatory discharge case

Amelia Flood Nov. 20, 2009, 1:26am

Although the jury deliberated until an hour after the Madison County courthouse closed, there was not a verdict Thursday night in a retaliatory discharge suit brought by a former hospital manager.

Jurors heard the final defense case testimony, the plaintiff's rebuttal and closing arguments from both sides before beginning deliberations just after 4 p.m.

An hour later, they returned to tell Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder that they wanted to continue with deliberations Friday.

The suit's trial began Monday.

Plaintiff's attorney Susan Andorfer stressed the elements of proof she and her client, Diane Hughes, had met to prove that Hughes was fired by defendant Gateway Medical Center in September 2006 for allegedly refusing to defraud Medicaid and Medicare.

Hughes claims she refused to direct case managers she supervised to fully admit over 50 nursing home patients who had been evacuated to the hospital due to a power outage at their home caused by severe storms.

Gateway countered in its case and the closing delivered by defense attorney Richard Behr that Hughes was told to resign for not doing her job.

Hughes' suit seeks damages in excess of $50,000 and costs under the Illinois Whistleblower's Act.

"You're entitled to use your common sense," Andorfer told the jury during her closing argument. She cited testimony from several Gateway Medical Center employees about the lack of disciplinary actions taken over Hughes' performance.

She used the words she said a former colleague mentioned describing being fired as "a nuclear attack," in someone's personal life.

Andorfer outlined the damages the suit sought, including $47,070 for past lost wages and benefits and $16,125 for future lost wages.

In his closing argument, Behr said he could not figure out why the hospital, that took the nursing home patients in during an emergency, he said, was "the bad guy."

He cited evidence that Hughes had been actively seeking another job for over a year prior to her resignation in 2006 including an interview for the job she has now and documents she wrote stating she wanted to cut her commute and step down from her position.
Hughes had testified that she had not interviewed for it on the date in question.

Behr furthered argued that Hughes' supervisors had simply wanted to get patients cared for rather than instructing her to "coach" diagnoses that would lead to insurance, Medicare and Medicaid billings.

He cited the fact that only three of the more than 50 nursing home patients were admitted to Gateway.

"I'll bet you that there are three people who are glad the doctors at Gateway examined them," he said.

"Gateway is not a Motel 6 or a gym for housing. It's a hospital."

Andorfer, in her response, countered that upper level managers like Hughes routinely look for jobs while employed.

"Looking for another job is not the same as being fired or forced to resign," she countered.

Prior to closing arguments, jurors saw video depositions and Hughes took the stand again to rebut certain defense testimony and evidence.
Hughes is also represented by Dana Deck.

The hospital is also represented by Jason Kinser.

The jury will return Friday morning.

The case is Madison case number 07-L-185.

More News