Former Woodstock nursing home employee says workers violated Illinois Whistleblower Act

Lawsuit: Former Hearthstone Communities worker says she was fired after reporting abuse

WOODSTOCK – A lawsuit filed by a former Woodstock senior living center worker accuses the business of firing her for trying to report abuse disclosed by a patient.

Juana Walsh is suing Christian Living Communities and Hearthstone Communities for more than $75,000 in money damages and the reinstatement of her job.

The lawsuit, filed Nov. 30 in McHenry County court, comes exactly one year after Walsh was fired from her job at Hearthstone Communities, 920 N. Seminary Ave., Woodstock.

The suit names two employees – facility Administrator Joni K. Fisher and Director of Nursing Patricia A. Birks – who Walsh believes violated the Illinois Whistleblower and Nursing Home Care acts after firing her for reporting the abuse.

Representatives from Hearthstone Communities’ human resources department could not be reached for comment.

An employee answering phones at the senior living center Friday said Birks no longer works there.

According to the lawsuit, Walsh entered a male resident’s room to take his vital signs Nov. 26, 2016. The man was shaking and appeared nervous, and when Walsh asked whether there was anything she could do for him, he said he was afraid of a male nursing assistant.

The man went on to say he was “treated very badly” by a particular nursing assistant the day before, the lawsuit states.

At the beginning of the male employee’s shift, he told the resident to “keep quiet” and “not bother him,” according to the lawsuit. Later, when the resident used the call light to ask for a glass of water, the nursing assistant reprimanded him and said not to call him for anything else.

As the nursing assistant was leaving, the man asked him to fix his pillow, and the employee was physically rough with the man’s head, the lawsuit states.

The resident told Walsh he was scared of the employee and did “not feel safe at Hearthstone.”

Walsh’s attorney, James Harrison of Harrison Law Offices, could not be reached for comment.

Days later, after Walsh had reported the abuse to both her supervisor and the company’s human resources director, a social worker told her no one would be filing an official report. The social worker told Walsh that Birks had spoken with the man Nov. 28, 2016, and reported he was “confused,” the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, Walsh said she prepared a written statement of the man’s complaint and shared it with the resident’s brother upon request when he visited two days later.

When Fisher learned that a family member had seen the complaint, she told Walsh what she did was wrong, and that she had put the entire place, and everybody’s job – including her own – at risk, according to the lawsuit.

Walsh said in the suit that Birks accused her of stealing the man’s private information by sharing it with his brother and of stealing the pencil and paper used to write the report, even though Walsh said she wrote it at home.

Walsh was fired on the spot and escorted off the property.

In the suit, Walsh has asked for the reinstatement of her job and the full fringe benefits and seniority rights it came with, as though she had never been fired.

The case will resume Feb. 28 in McHenry County court.