Administrators at the University of Connecticut Health Center (UCHC) accused nurse Susan O’Loughlin of pocketing two doses of flu vaccine for personal use. She denied it, hospital police couldn’t prove it, but management fired her anyway. This despite the fact a gerontologist, Dr. Rita Jepsen, told police she took the medicine and they never arrested her. Jepsen’s brother is former Senate Democratic Majority Leader George Jepsen [see Fiasco at UConn Health Center].Now, a labor arbitrator has ruled UCHC fired O’Loughlin without just cause. They must reinstate her, and cough up 17 months back pay and benefits.
“The single, uncontested bare fact” in the entire O’Loughlin controversy, according to arbitrator Roberta Golick’s decision, is that on December 22, 2003, Dr. Jepsen “got two flu vaccines…for her own personal use.“O’Loughlin and UCHC administration disputed every other fact of the case, with O’Loughlin denying any wrongdoing, and management convinced she had stolen two flu vaccines. But management’s theory didn’t hold water, the arbitrator reasoned. For instance, the administration claimed O’Loughlin asked a medical assistant to draw the vaccines for her.“Well before this incident, O’Loughlin had had many debates with her superiors about the scope of medical assistants’ responsibilities,” the arbitrator wrote. “O’Loughlin believed that medical assistants worked under the nurse’s license and that it was improper for a medical assistant to draw medications. Given O’Loughlin’s strong advocacy against administering medicine that anyone other than herself had drawn, it would have been a significant departure for her to seek, never mind accept medications drawn by a person she barely knew, particularly where she was not even privy to the actual preparation of the syringes.“Moreover, after she was first asked about the vaccines, O’Loughlin denied it, explained what she had been doing in the area where the vaccines were kept, and then repeatedly inquired as to the status of the investigation.“A person who has something to hide does not typically offer up explanations that can be easily discredited,” the arbitrator wrote. “A person with something to hide does not typically press for speedy answers.“The administration had relied on the statements of three workers who claimed they saw O’Loughlin receive the vaccines. “But their recollections of how the incident unfolded are not entirely consistent,” the arbitrator wrote, “and with respect to the most critical detail of all, namely the handoff of the syringes by [the medical assistant] to O’Loughlin, their recollections are irreconcilable.“A UCHC spokeswoman said the hospital would comply with the arbitrator’s ruling.