By Daniel Malloy
Published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on December 6, 2008.
An Allegheny County judge set a deadline of today for UPMC to pay a settlement to a former secretary who sued Magee-Womens Hospital for wrongful termination and a violation of the state’s Whistleblower Law.
Donna Kovacs, of Munhall, and the defendants reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount last month as the trial was beginning. The suit named Magee and the UPMC Health System. But the two sides have been squabbling since then about provisions in the settlement, including UPMC’s demand that Ms. Kovacs make a statement that she knows of no other legal violations at UPMC besides what she detailed in the lawsuit.
Common Pleas Judge Eugene B. Strassburger wrote in a brief this week that such a statement is “unreasonable because it would cause the plaintiff to lie.”
Judge Strassburger also ordered UPMC to pay the settlement by today, with interest from Nov. 19. Filed in 2005, the lawsuit alleged that hospital officials altered or destroyed patient records in a way Ms. Kovacs thought was potentially harmful to patient safety.
She alerted her superiors, but instead of fixing the problems, Ms. Kovacs said, the hospital officials attacked her for blowing the whistle. Eventually she was fired in November 2004 after six years at the hospital.
UPMC said it had fired her for improperly accessing patient records, which she disputed.
“I think that she was vindicated, both through these proceedings and through the results of this settlement,” said Ms. Kovas’ attorney, Vicki Kuftic Horne.
In an e-mail, UPMC spokesman Frank Raczkiewicz wrote: “We reached an amicable resolution. We are prepared to fulfill our obligations under the terms to which all of the parties originally agreed.”
As Judge Strassburger ordered, that means Ms. Kovacs does not have to say she knows of no other crimes – freeing her to testify in other pending civil cases that allege similar misconduct by UPMC.