Nurse sues hospital for firing her after speaking out on poor conditions

A veteran Detroit nurse was fired for speaking out on staffing ratios and poor conditions at a hospital amid the coronavirus pandemic, a new lawsuit claims.

In court papers filed Monday, Kenisa Barkai, 38, alleges her March 27 termination from Detroit Medical Center’s Sinai-Grace Hospital was retaliation for airing her concerns beginning a month earlier about a lack of staffing and protective equipment at the facility, the Detroit Free Press reports.

The hospital then started treating patients with COVID-19, prompting the nurse of 11 years to tell supervisors she planned to report her issues to state or health care regulators, according to the lawsuit.

Barkai, a single mother in Woodhaven, met with the hospital’s director of nursing on March 17 as she cared for seven patients, including two diagnosed with the coronavirus. Barkai claimed treating both sets of patients could expose people without COVID-19 to the virus, as well as to worsen the hospital’s shortage of personal protective equipment, the lawsuit claims.

Later that day, Barkai posted a 7-second video on Facebook, highlighting the face mask, hair covering, gloves and medical gown she wore at the hospital.

“I’m ready to rock and roll,” Barkai said on the clip, according to her lawsuit. “I’m going in.”

Barkai’s video was featured on a Detroit newscast the following day. She was then fired nine days later by the hospital system, which cited a violation of its social media policy in a termination letter Barkai provided to the newspaper.

“We’re just trying to right what was wrong in regards to myself being basically terminated and basically used as a scapegoat to try to keep my coworkers quiet,” Barkai said. “We were already struggling to manage and when COVID came about, it just made it a lot more dangerous.”

A Detroit Medical Center spokesman told the newspaper it does not comment on pending litigation.

Barkai said her firing has left her without health insurance for both herself and her 7-year-old son, despite finding a new job with lesser hours. Her lawsuit, which seeks a jury trial and at least $25,000 in damages, alleges a violation of Michigan’s Whistleblower Protection Act, the Free Press reports.

Barkai’s attorney, meanwhile, said her experience “exposed how broken” conditions became at the hospital, where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said state regulators are looking into a report of bodies stored in vacant rooms, the Detroit News reports.

“[The hospital] can’t retaliate against a nurse whose sole goal was to advise the authorities of inappropriate actions that were jeopardizing patient care,” Rasor told the Detroit News late Tuesday. “They can’t fire her during the biggest pandemic for which her services were crucially needed.”

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