A Middle District of Pennsylvania judge declined to dismiss a case Tuesday brought by a former administrator turned whistleblower against MHM Health Professionals (MHM), the provider of psychiatric services for mentally ill prisoners on behalf of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC).
She brought the suit on grounds that the defendant unlawfully terminated the plaintiff after she reported to the public that MHM mandated the administrative staff to operate as physicians, forcing the practice of unlawful medicine. She also said the company required the staff to spy on competitors in order to get insider information useful in ensuring that MHM retained its current corrections contracts, despite delivering subpar medical care to prisoners.
The whistleblower claimed that the defendant acted wrongly by “providing inadequate hours and quality of treatment, understaffing medical providers, and overmedicating certain prisoners to such an extent that one soiled himself and required hospitalization.” In addition, the plaintiff continued, when the issues were reported to the management at MHM, the superiors not only failed to act on the grievances but also subsequently tasked the plaintiff, who was hired by MHM to review contracts, to oversee the medical care of the prisoners and to alter the records when said physicians failed to deliver appropriate care. When the plaintiff refused to engage in the alleged unlawful practice of medicine nor the bidding espionage, MHM terminated the plaintiff.
The plaintiff asserted that her termination violated the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Act (PWA), which generally prohibits the termination of an employee by a public body solely for reporting wrongdoing. PWA states that “(n)o (public body) may discharge.. an employee…because the employee… makes a good faith report or is about to report, verbally or in writing, to the employer or appropriate authority an instance of wrongdoing….” The act further defines a public body to include “any other body…which is funded in any amount by or through (the state of Pennsylvania).”
Given these definitions, the opinion explained, the defendant argued that the plaintiff’s claim must be dismissed as the defendant, a private company contracting with the PDOC, failed to qualify as a public body.
The court disagreed, holding that precedent from Pennsylvania state courts defined a public body to be any entity funded by money from the state, writing that “the statutory definition of public body for purposes of the (PWA) includes…private entities which receive funding in any amount (from) the Commonwealth.” Judge Sylvia H. Rambo did note that federal district courts had reached different outcomes as to what it means to be a public body, but explained that state court decisions supersede federal district court opinions on areas involving the interpretation of state law.
The plaintiff is represented by CGA Law Firm.