Paramedic fired for patient abandonment must repay unemployment benefits

By: - October 11, 2021 5:20 pm

An unemployment benefits form. (Photo by Getty Images)

An Iowa paramedic fired for patient abandonment must repay $4,758 in unemployment benefits she collected after her dismissal, a state judge has ruled.

Licensed paramedic Zenda Vikturek was fired from the Waverly Health Center in May. According to state records, she and her partner, an emergency medical technician (EMT), were called to an apartment building on April 6 to assist a pregnant woman who was in labor.

The patient’s boyfriend met Vikturek and her partner at the entrance to the building’s lobby, and explained his girlfriend was upstairs, on the second floor, in a bathroom.

Vikturek and her partner went up to the second floor, but brought with them no medical supplies, no cot and no obstetrics kit to monitor the baby and the mother. After assessing the woman, Vikturek and her partner left her alone in the apartment and returned to the ambulance.

While they were still in the ambulance, the patient’s boyfriend came downstairs and told Vikturek that his girlfriend’s water broke. Vikturek and the EMT went back inside, carrying with them a cot, but no obstetrics kit. By the time they got to the bathroom, the patient had already delivered her baby by herself.

When two other paramedics arrived, Vikturek allegedly told them they were not needed. Rather than have one of those paramedics ride with the patient and her baby in the back of the ambulance, Vikturek had the EMT – who is not licensed to provide the same level of care as a paramedic – ride with the patient in the ambulance, according to state records.

After the patient and her boyfriend complained about the quality of care provided by Vikturek, the Waverly Health Center reviewed the case, suspended Vikturek for violating patient-safety protocols, and then fired her for patient abandonment.

After being fired, she applied for and was granted unemployment benefits totaling $2,958, as well as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation in the amount of $1,800.

The Waverly Health Center appealed that decision. The case went before Administrative Law Judge Stephanie Adkisson, who recently ruled that licensed medical professionals “have a higher standard of care required in the performance of their job duties” and overturned a previous decision awarding  Vikturek benefits.

Adkisson noted that in 2019, Vikturek had been placed on a performance improvement plan for failing to provide proper patient care.

“Despite that warning, (she) still failed to follow accepted standards of patient care on April 6, 2021,” the judge stated, adding that Vikturek must repay the $4,758 in benefits she has already collected.

Vikturek has no record of any public disciplinary action by the Iowa Bureau of Emergency and Trauma Services.

Other Iowa medical professionals whose requests for unemployment benefits recently went before a judge include:

— Karah Levy, who worked Dr. George Kappos as a full-time medical assistant from February through April of this year. According to the findings of an administrative law judge, during Levy’s employment, she started to become uncomfortable around Kappos, who would touch other female workers’ hair and rub their shoulders.

Levy allegedly told Kappos and the others in the office that she did not like to be touched, but Kappos reportedly began touching her hair and rubbing her shoulders anyway. Although Levy advised Kappos multiple times that she did not want him to touch her, Kappos allegedly continued with the behavior.

On April 3, Levy was sitting at her desk when Kappos allegedly exited one of the patient rooms and aggressively struck the top of Levy’s head. Kappos later apologized and told Levy he had been upset with one of his patients. Levy quit a few weeks later, citing the unwanted touching, an increased workload and a lack of COVID-19 safety precautions.

Administrative Law Judge Carly Smith awarded Levy unemployment benefits, noting that Kappos “admitted that he touched claimant’s hair and rubbed her shoulders” on several occasions. “An employee should not have to work in an environment where their supervisor repeatedly touches them against their wishes,” Smith stated in her ruling.

— Kendra Castro, who worked for Wheelock & Associates Dentistry in Sioux City from 2018 through June 2020. On June 13, 2020, Castro was with her children in a store parking lot when she noticed a car being driven in a reckless manner. The driver swerved around Castro and almost struck an elderly couple pushing a cart.

After the driver of the car parked, Castro took a picture of the vehicle, showing its license plate, and posted the photo to social media, adding a caption about the experience and stating that the incident could have ended badly. The photo was seen by the parents of the driver, who were patients of the dental office. They contacted the office and complained, threatening to pull their business unless the employer did something to address the issue.

Although Castro took down the photo within 24 hours of posting it, the office fired Castro for violating its social media policy, which prohibits postings that “include patient information.”

Administrative Law Judge Carly Smith ruled that Castro was fired for no reasons that would disqualify her from collecting employment. “The post does not appear to be a willful and wanton disregard of the employer’s interest,” smith ruled. “Nothing in the post seems to tie the claimant or driver to the employer.”

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.