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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Lakeland workers allege reprisal

One of three employees who have filed a multimillion-dollar claim against the state said a supervisor at Lakeland Village instructed her not to reposition her severely disabled patient or check for soiled clothing.

Stacy Green, a 22-year-old counselor, said she surreptitiously checked on the patient’s condition despite the instructions from her supervisor two years ago. Later, although her supervisors urged her not to, Green said, she called a state hotline designed to ensure the protection of vulnerable patients.

“I just felt that the clients weren’t being cared for in the way they needed to be,” Green said in a recent interview. “I did the job the way I was trained to do it.”

The phone call triggered a cascade of events in which Green and two other employees at Lakeland – one of the last state-run institutions of its type in Washington – said they lost wages, promotions and employment opportunities for reporting concerns about patient care at the center.

The Department of Social and Health Services, which oversees Lakeland Village, said its employees are required to report abuse or neglect but denied any knowledge of wrongdoing.

“Because these tort claims may become lawsuits seeking taxpayers’ money, DSHS is limited to saying only that it is unaware of any improper actions taken towards these employees by supervisors,” the agency said in a news release. “Nor does DSHS know of any Lakeland Village resident involved in these allegations who suffered any abuse or neglect.”

The employees – Green, 47-year-old manager Joanne Hunley and 41-year-old administrator Tamara Treat – filed tort claims in October totaling more than $10 million, alleging that supervisors retaliated against them for reporting their concerns. They have not yet filed a lawsuit.

“We work with severely and profoundly disabled people,” said Treat, a 20-year veteran of Lakeland Village, located near Medical Lake. “We are their voice.”

The incident raised broader concerns about whether state employees think they can report their concerns about patient care without fear of retaliation from supervisors. In May, an investigation by the Department of Social and Health Services found that 40 percent of Lakeland’s employees feared reprisals if they reported abuse or neglect.

Lakeland Village, which opened in 1914, provides housing, training and education for 250 people with developmental disabilities. Officials referred all calls to state headquarters in Olympia.

Department spokesman Jeff Weathersby said the investigators surveyed only 15 of the center’s 119 employees. Six discussed concerns about retaliation for reporting problems.

The agency said its Division of Developmental Disabilities provides training on how to report concerns. It emphasized that its employees are mandatory reporters, meaning they’re required to report any possible abuse or neglect.

The agency investigation also found that written policy at Lakeland instructed employees to notify their supervisor of suspected abuse without allowing them to make the report anonymously. State law requires that employees be allowed to make anonymous reports, and the policy has since been changed.

Green said her supervisors urged her not to report her concerns to the state hotline, which would prompt an investigation.

“They told me there was no reason to do it,” Green said. “They wanted to shove it under the rug.”

Green, who worked as a part-time employee but logged 30 to 40 hours a week, said Hunley offered her a temporary job for one year. But when that position ended earlier this year, Green said Lakeland supervisors dramatically cut her hours. Hunley and Treat allege they were retaliated against for supporting Green, including through the loss of potential promotions.

Treat said that in a meeting after the report, one top supervisor discouraged another supervisor from hiring Green, saying she “had some problems on other cottages.”

“We had been documenting all along that there had been retaliation against Stacy for making a report,” Treat said. “It fell on deaf ears.”

Green’s attorney, Mike Kinkley, said his client has an excellent work record but has not been offered a full-time position. He said his client felt pressured to go against her training.

“The laws and her training tell her to do one thing,” Kinkley said. “Her supervisor tells her to do something different.”

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