A former administrator at Shawnee Mission Medical Center says male executives dismissed her reports of understaffing in the hospital’s birth center because she’s a woman.
Margaret Meier was the hospital’s director of women’s and children’s services from April 2015 to February 2017. In a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court, she says she was fired after she warned that the staffing situation was creating safety concerns for patients, including some in the neonatal intensive care unit.
The suit alleges sex discrimination, stating that Shawnee Mission Health chief operating officer Michael Knecht and other male executives ignored Meier’s concerns and “were dismissive of her in ways that they did not treat other males.”
“During Plaintiff’s employment, there was a pattern and practice of male non-clinical leaders not listening to or accepting the professional observations, judgments and recommendations of female, clinical experts,” the suit says.
Morgan Shandler, a spokeswoman for Shawnee Mission Health, which oversees the medical center and affiliated clinics, said the organization usually doesn’t comment on the merits of pending lawsuits, but in this case, “we feel it’s important to set the record straight.”
“Our nursing ratios meet national benchmarks for similar hospitals, and we have continued to review staffing and add nurses to accommodate the growth we’ve experienced since opening our Birth Center in 2013,” Shandler said in an emailed statement. “As Kansas City’s longstanding leader in maternity care, we have extremely high standards for patient safety.”
Shandler’s statement also addressed the allegations of sex discrimination.
“Our organization’s values are based on inclusivity, which guides how we interact and treat our team members,” she said. “We have confidence in the legal process and that these truths will be validated as part of this course.”
Knecht didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment.
According to her LinkedIn page, Meier was a clinical coordinator for five years at St. Luke’s South and NICU director for almost six years at Overland Park Regional Medical Center before coming to Shawnee Mission Health.
Meier’s lawsuit alleges that Shawnee Mission Health set different budgetary standards for male-led departments than for female-led ones, leading to female administrators getting less bonus money than males.
Meier said the budget she was expected to operate with was not sufficient and restricted her departments to dangerous staffing levels.
The suit says she told superiors at Shawnee Mission Health about a survey in which more than half of nurses said there wasn’t enough staff to safely care for patients. She also passed along reports from doctors that labor and delivery nurses “were stretched too thin and that Defendant’s short staffing problem was a ‘serious issue’ resulting in the physician groups’ ‘enormous safety concern’ with the ‘ongoing problems’ at the Birth Center.”
Mark Finkelston, an OB-GYN in a physician group affiliated with Shawnee Mission Medical Center, said the concerns outlined in Meier’s suit seem overstated, based on his experience.
The hospital has a lot of turnover, he said, but that’s not unusual given the high number of births it handles each year.
“I’m aware of staff shortages or the need to bring in new nurses on a constant basis because of the volume they do,” Finkelston said. “But I am unaware of any safety issues that have arisen as a result.”
The only effect on patients Finkelston said he’s seen is that there are some days when he can’t schedule an elective inducement of labor because there won’t be enough nurses.
“That’s the case at any hospital,” Finkelston said.
Meier’s suit alleges that her superiors didn’t take her staffing concerns seriously. Instead, the complaint says, Knecht and chief financial officer Karsten Randolph were “dismissive, demeaning, hostile and belittling in a gender-related way,” asking her whether she understood how the hospital set its budgetary benchmarks and telling Meier’s subordinates “Your director needs a lesson on productivity.”
The suit says Meier was fired after she refused to sign off on the 2017 budgets for her departments because she believed “it was setting up her subordinates to fail as it forced them to provide compromised care.”
Meier’s suit says there was a “boys’ club” atmosphere at Shawnee Mission Health that included former CEO Ken Bacon arranging golf outings with other male executives and managers but inviting female leaders only if human resources required it.
Shawnee Mission Medical Center is owned by Florida-based Adventist Health System. Bacon left the hospital in May to take over Adventist Health’s south Denver hospitals. He didn’t respond to a voicemail left Monday.
Bacon has been replaced at Shawnee Mission Health by Sam Huenergardt, who was previously CEO of one of Adventist Health’s Denver-area facilities.