Hospice manager claims she was ordered to lie about COVID-19 test

By: - December 2, 2022 11:59 am

The former clinical manager of an Iowa hospice claims she was instructed to lie to a patient's family about a caregiver’s COVID-19 infection. (Photo by Getty Images)

The former clinical manager of an Iowa hospice claims she was instructed to lie to a patient’s family about a caregiver’s COVID-19 infection.

State records indicate Michelle Hopp of Davenport was working in Iowa for St. Croix Hospice earlier this year as a full-time manager of clinical services.

On the morning of Aug. 29, one of the nurses Hopp supervised took a COVID-19 test at work and then, after work but before the results were in, she took an at-home test. The home test showed the nurse was positive for the virus. Hopp then informed all of the facilities the nurse had been in, and all of the patients she had seen on Aug. 29.

One patient’s spouse was upset at the news and said she believed the nurse was positive for the virus when the two interacted on Aug. 29. The spouse wanted to speak to a supervisor, so Hopp notified her boss, Amanda Harford.

According to the findings of the judge who presided over a hearing on Hopp’s subsequent claim for unemployment benefits, Harford told Hopp to tell the patient’s spouse that the nurse’s COVID-19 test had been negative the morning of Aug. 29.

Hopp allegedly protested, arguing the company did not yet have the test results so she couldn’t truthfully tell the patient’s spouse otherwise. Harford allegedly insisted that Hopp follow her instructions. Hopp refused, later stating she didn’t want to jeopardize her nursing license.

Four days later, she resigned, citing concerns with training. A few days after that, she raised the issue of the COVID-19 test in explaining her decision to quit.

Administrative Law Judge Alexis Rowe recently denied Hopp’s application for unemployment benefits, stating that Hopp had raised the issue of being asked to lie to a patient’s spouse after she resigned, rather than before.

Hopp’s “concerns were valid and understandable,” Rowe ruled, but she had not given her employer an opportunity to address her concerns. Although she “had good personal reasons for her resignation, these reasons do not constitute good-cause reasons attributable to the employer,” Rowe stated.

St. Croix Hospice did not respond to several calls and emails from the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Other Iowans whose unemployment requests recently went before a judge include:

William Abernathey, who was employed as a critical-care paramedic for Sartori Memorial Hospital until his firing in August for not upholding the hospital’s “core principles.” The day before he was fired, Abernathey and another paramedic were dispatched to a home where an individual had threatened suicide. The individual didn’t want to go to the hospital. At one point, Abernathey and the Cedar Falls police who were on the scene engaged in a brief but heated argument, with Abernathey arguing the individual needed to be transported to the hospital. The police department later sent the hospital body-camera footage of the incident. Hospital officials who reviewed the video concluded Abernathey had been rude and intimidating and that he had shown a lack of compassion for the patient. At Abernathey’s unemployment hearing, the hospital refused to submit the video for consideration by Administrative Law Judge Jason Dunn, who subsequently awarded Abernathey unemployment benefits. “The body-cam footage is the sole reason (Abernathey) is being terminated and would be the best evidence to support the employer’s position,” Dunn ruled. “The patient required immediate medical attention that was only available at the hospital and not in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.”

Chelsi Ingles, who worked for Cedar County as a public health manager before she was fired in July for timecard theft. The county had compared Ingles’ timecards with electronic data showing when she arrived for work each day and had concluded she was claiming pay for hours never worked. Ingles said she worked odd hours at times and occasionally performed work, such as viewing work-related videos, outside normal office hours. She was denied benefits, with the judge in her case finding that even if she had been given permission “to arrive early or watch videos and bill at odd hours, that does not excuse her ongoing, poor recordkeeping that only worked to her advantage.”

Stephanie Cox, who worked for Pottawattamie County as a full-time detention officer until she was fired in September. On Aug. 8, Cox allegedly was captured on the jail’s surveillance video pulling an inmate’s hair several times and then “flicking” the inmate’s ear, which was consistent with allegations made by the inmate. Cox had claimed she thought the inmate was joking when he asked her to stop. The judge who presided over a hearing on Cox’s claim for unemployment benefits recently ruled that regardless of Cox’s intentions, “the acts of pulling hair and flicking ears are elevated from annoying to degrading given the extreme inequality of power between the parties,” adding that her actions “may even constitute criminal assault.”

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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.