Central Falls Coverup - Students Not Properly Immunized
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
Marie Laboissonniere tells GoLocalProv that between 1999 and 2005 students at the Calcutt Middle School were administered the third shot in their Hepatitis B series too soon after their second. Laboissonniere said she uncovered the problem when she became the nurse at Central Falls High School and was reviewing the immunization records for students.
Every student that she was able to notify was given a fourth shot by their family doctor to correct the error, Laboissonniere said. But she says the district never conducted a thorough audit of immunization records—or made the effort to reach those students she was unable to, because they either graduated or moved out of the district.
District denies it ignored error
As a result, Laboissonniere says there could be more students who were improperly immunized and don’t know it. “I don’t know if there was one student improperly immunized or one hundred,” Laboissonniere said. “I don’t think anyone knows the answer. That’s my fear.”
In January 2007, Laboissonniere reported the error to the Health Department, which she said conducted an investigation. Peter Hanney, a spokesman for the department, said he could not confirm whether there was an investigation unless there was a finding of some wrongdoing. Laboissonniere said the department did investigate and put a complaint in the permanent file of the nurse who she said is responsible for the improper immunizations, Marie Grist. Beyond that, the department took no other action, according to Laboissonniere.
Nurse says she was punished for being a whistleblower
But she said Superintendent Frances Gallo and Grist acted swiftly to retaliate. Her lawsuit claims that, “Thereafter, due to reporting the foregoing incidents to DOH, Defendant School District and Plantiff’s Supervisors, the Plaintiff was subjected to workplace harassment by employees of the Defendant School District, including, but not limited to, Defendants Gallo and Grist.”
In her suit, Laboissonniere says she was pushed out of her position at the high school and “ultimately compelled to take a less advantageous position” at another school. She says Grist filed a meritless complaint about her treatment of a student, made death threats against her, and “falsely accused” her of “poor work performance.”
The actions of the other employees in the district, her lawsuit claims, constituted a violation of the Rhode Island Whisteblowers’ Protection Act.
District ‘committed to transparency’
Grosso yesterday said district officials are restricted in what they can say in response to Laboissonniere’s claims because of the ongoing lawsuit.
“As we said before, the District is committed to transparency and has always and will always provide timely, truthful responses to inquiries that we receive. However, this inquiry like others that you have made is directed at sourcing out information that falls within categories that are private and confidential,” Grosso said.
She added: “Our employees, former employees, and most importantly our students have a right to their individual privacy and confidentiality. We are bound by legal and professional responsibilities not to publicly comment on personnel matters—particularly those that are now subject of litigation and/or grievance.”
Coworker confirms story
A second former nurse in the school district confirmed Laboissonniere’s story. Although she did not personally uncover the same problem, Debra Woods, who worked at the middle school, said she viewed the records showing the immunization errors.
When she tried to defend Laboissonniere, she said she too faced retaliation. “Once they got that I was standing up for the woman, they turned on me violently, viciously, voraciously, and quickly,” said Woods, who was employed in the district just one year, from 2006 to 2007.
After readying her own lawsuit, Woods said she was forced into resignation after the district threatened to cut off her health benefits. “I had a husband going through chemotherapy and they’re telling me they’re going to shut off my benefit,” Woods said. “I didn’t have a choice. It was like they put a gun to my head.”
In return for resigning, she said the district covered the costs of Blue Cross family medical insurance for a year.
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