Physician Alleges Illegal Firing at D-H

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/23/2016 11:01:29 PM

Lebanon— A physician who conducted medical research for Dartmouth-Hitchcock has sued the health care system, alleging that her termination 14 months ago constituted illegal discrimination because she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The lawsuit by Lacey Colligan, a pediatrician and expert in patient safety issues, alleges she was fired within hours of an exchange with the wife of a top D-H executive at the front door of their home.

Colligan’s behavior in that exchange was influenced by her PTSD, which D-H officials knew about, and her abrupt termination violated state and federal laws against discrimination and coercion, her lawsuit says.

“Dartmouth-Hitchcock denies the claims made by Dr. Colligan,” D-H spokesman Rick Adams said this week.

Colligan’s “contract was terminated after she appeared at a colleague’s home early in the morning, acting in an inappropriate and threatening manner that called for a police response,” Adams said. D-H “had no notice of a PTSD diagnosis,” he added.

Colligan’s lawsuit, which was filed on Friday in U.S. District Court in Concord, names D-H’s hospital and clinic units as defendants.

The purpose of the suit, which seeks injunctive relief and unspecified monetary damages, is to make D-H comply with anti-discrimination laws, Colligan’s lawyer, Bill Christie of New Hampshire-based Shaheen and Gordon, said.

In a letter written in December and filed as an exhibit in the lawsuit, D-H deputy general counsel Kimberly Troland said that “none of the individuals involved in the decision to part ways with Dr. Colligan were aware that she suffered from a disability.”

A Hanover police report filed as an exhibit in the lawsuit reports that Colligan had an encounter with the wife of John Birkmeyer, a D-H executive vice president at the time, at about 8 a.m. on Sept. 1, 2015. Colligan, who lives near the Birkmeyers, went to their door to warn them about a person taking pictures in front of their house, according to the lawsuit.

Colligan “became flustered, which is a symptom of her post-traumatic stress disorder and mental disability,” her lawsuit says. Embarrassed, she returned about 30 minutes later to leave flowers and an apology note, it says.

Six hours after the morning encounter, Birkmeyer called police, told them that Colligan had “been having psychological issues lately” and had been “let go” by D-H, according to the police report. An email to Colligan from a D-H official later that day also mentioned her termination, according to a document filed by her lawyer.

In a subsequent call, the police report said, D-H officials told police that they were considering “hiring a private security firm” for Birkmeyer. Birkmeyer ended a two-year tenure as a D-H executive last month.

Colligan, a 1991 graduate of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, was at the University of Virginia Health System in 2012 training to become a faculty member specializing in care for newborn children when her 21-year-old daughter died of cardiac arrest.

Colligan found her daughter in her apartment, not breathing and without a pulse, according to a 2014 medical journal article she wrote about the experience. Noting that she was kept apart from her daughter for three hours while emergency room doctors ignored her request to stop heroic measures on her unconscious daughter, Colligan argued in the article that physicians should honor family members’ requests to be present during resuscitation efforts.

After the incident, Colligan was diagnosed with PTSD, and decided to leave Virginia.

She moved to Hanover, where she began doing research at D-H and became an adjunct faculty member at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine, the lawsuit says.

At D-H, Colligan took the lead in an American Medical Association project that used 430 hours of direct observation to analyze the effect of electronic health records on doctors’ interactions with patients and time spent on the computer and doing administrative tasks, according to her lawsuit, and the results of the study were published in a medical journal in September. The article listed Colligan second among the nine authors.

Colligan’s lawsuit alleges that after she was fired, D-H managers denied her access to her email account, canceled a presentation she was scheduled to make to a gathering of pediatricians and forbade her from entering Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center except for medical emergencies or appointments with doctors caring for her.

One day, when Colligan went to DHMC for an appointment with her doctor, security personnel made her wait outside their office and spoke loudly about her illness, and eventually she fell to the floor crying, “became frozen in fear” and was taken to the emergency room, the lawsuit alleges.

No longer willing to visit DHMC for mental health care, she was hospitalized several times and bore the expense of changing to an out-of-network provider, the lawsuit says.

Letters from Colligan’s lawyers to D-H that were filed with the lawsuit allege that by firing her and excluding her from its Lebanon campus, the health system had damaged her reputation, prevented her from completing contracted research and interfered with her position at Geisel.

Colligan was notified in October 2015 that “her participation in the faculty of Geisel” had ended, her lawsuit says.

Both sides expressed a desire to have their day in court. “It is unfortunate that Dr. Colligan has brought these allegations, but they will be answered and addressed in a judicial forum,” Adams said.

“If the case goes to trial, we’re ready to try it,” Christie said.

Rick Jurgens can be reached at rjurgens@vnews.com or 603-727-3229.


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