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Huggins Hospital denies wrongdoing claimed in civil suit

February 13, 2014
WOLFEBORO — Officials at Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro are denying any wrongdoing in a case filed by an Ossipee woman claiming she was held at the hospital for six days against her will.

In her suit Noreen Cousins, 56, of Ossipee who is a former employee of the hospital and of its affiliate Back Bay Rehabilitation Clinic, claims that she was falsely imprisoned, wrongfully discharged from her employment, and that the hospital violated the Whistleblower's Protection Act. She is seeking damages due to the "oppressive and outrageous nature" of hospital staff.

In a statement issued by Huggins spokesperson Mariann Murphy, the "the hospital vehemently denies the pertinent allegations" and "intends to vigorously contest the lawsuit."

In the 16-page civil complaint and related attachments filed at Carroll County Superior Court, Cousins' attorney Charles G. Douglas, III of the Concord law firm Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C. spells out Cousins' side of the story.

Cousins worked at Back Bay Rehabilitation from Oct. 2008 until May 31, 2013 when she was allegedly terminated from her employment following her claims of theft of hospital services by her co-workers and managers. Cousins had written a letter to Huggins' Vice President of Human Resources Laura Strauss on Feb. 25, 2013 reporting that she was being subjected to hostility and retaliation after speaking up about staff, their family and friends, and even the director of the rehabilitation center receiving free physical therapy. The suit claims that the director was investigated and later left the position.

Following his departure and when the free therapy came to a halt, Cousins claims, her coworkers reacted by "making known their resentment and unhappiness" by shunning and ignoring her. She also points out at least two occasions when she was yelled at by her supervisor in front of other workers and patients. In a letter she wrote to human resources Cousins said, "I am verbally abused by the office staff on a daily basis. I have spent many nights driving home with tears in my eyes. I really enjoy the patients that I meet every day and I enjoy my job."

In the midst of her troubles at work, Cousins' daughter was going through a difficult divorce. To her co-workers she would say things about her son-in-law like "I could just strangle him" or "I could just shoot him for what he is putting her through." Douglas said these statements by Cousins were merely expressions of frustration and that she met no harm. "Nonetheless," said Douglas, "it gave the employees an opportunity to get Mrs. Cousins out of their hair."

On May 29, 2013 Wolfeboro Police Department was called by Strauss with claims that Cousins was making threats to shoot everyone in the workplace, kill her son-in-law, and then kill herself. Meanwhile the hospital's physical therapy director Erin McKay swore out a petition to Kimberly Ann Phillips, Justice of the Peace which ordered law enforcement to take custody of Cousins and deliver her to the hospital "where a compulsory mental examination is to be conducted for the purposes of considering whether an involuntary emergency admission shall be ordered." Cousins was picked up by police when she returned from her lunch break, taken to Huggins Hospital's main building, examined, and then locked in a room.

The suit claims that under state law, a person can only be held for six hours and then must be released unless a doctor finds the person poses a Likelihood of danger" to herself or others but as "a result of a mental illness" and that standard was not complied with by hospital staff.

Cousins was confined to a hospital room from May 29 to June 3 when room opened up at the State Hospital and she was transferred there and released the following day. According to Douglas, the law also requires that a citizen must be taken before a neutral judge within three days to "determine if there was probable cause for involuntary admission." Cousins never got her probable cause hearing.

During her confinement at the hospital, on May 31, Cousins received a letter from Strauss telling her not to return to work.

She lost her job and suffered the humiliation of confinement at a hospital, all because her co-workers wanted to harass and embarrass her in retaliation for her reporting of their illicit "friends and family" free treatment program, said Douglas.

To add insult to injury, Cousins received a bill for $8,803.30 for her hospital confinement. During her confinement, Cousins was largely cut off from her family her husband, a career Master Chief of the Navy, deployed to Afghanistan and her adult son who was left in the dark as to why his mother was being held against her will.

The suit claims that Cousins "suffered considerable emotional distress, embarrassment and humiliation" and was subjected to being involuntarily held at the same hospital that employed her and her co-workers. She is seeking compensatory damages for "loss of enjoyment of life, loss of wages, and loss of earning capacity" in addition to the stress and humiliation she has allegedly endured.

Huggins Hospital's attorneys, the Portsmouth law firm Jackson Lewis, PC, are asking the court to throw out the case and that Cousins should be ordered to pay the hospital's legal fees for the defense against her claims.

"The hospital complied with all applicable laws and used its best efforts to protect its employees at the Rehab Center from well-founded threats of potential violence," the hospital said in the statement released by Murphy.

In Huggins Hospital's answer to Cousins' complaint, filed this week in Superior Court, it denies all of the allegations including, "to the extent that the Plaintiff Cousins claims to have suffered damages, such damages were caused by the Plantiff's own acts or omissions."

Both sides of the suit are asking for a jury trial and, as of press time, the preliminary date when might begin had not been set.

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