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Alabama State Personnel Board v. Palmore

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

August 3, 2018

Alabama State Personnel Board
v.
Sherryl Palmore

          Appeal from Walker Circuit Court (CV-15-900137)

          PITTMAN, JUDGE.

         The Alabama State Personnel Board ("the Board") appeals from a judgment of the Walker Circuit Court ("the circuit court") reversing an order of the Board that had upheld the dismissal of Sherryl Palmore from her employment with the Alabama Department of Public Health ("DPH"). We reverse and remand.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In September 2014, DPH sent Palmore, who was employed by DPH as a staff nurse in Walker County, a "Notice of Pretermination Conference" notifying her that her supervisors had recommended that she be dismissed from her employment with DPH because, her supervisors said, on July 7, 2014, she had not taken the blood pressure of a patient ("the patient") or calculated the patient's body mass index ("BMI") before giving the patient an intramuscular injection ("the injection"); because, her supervisors said, she had not properly recorded the patient's blood pressure and BMI in the patient's chart when she saw the patient; and because, her supervisors said, she had subsequently entered false blood-pressure and BMI information in the patient's chart. On October 8, 2014, DPH held a pretermination conference at which Palmore was afforded the opportunity to respond to the charges and to present evidence in opposition to the charges. On October 15, 2014, DPH sent Palmore a letter notifying her that her employment as a staff nurse with DPH would be terminated at the close of business on October 16, 2014.

         Thereafter, Palmore timely appealed to the Board. Her appeal was assigned to an administrative-law judge ("the ALJ"), who conducted a de novo hearing. On January 1, 2015, the ALJ sent the Board a recommended order in which he recommended that the Board uphold Palmore's dismissal. In his recommended order, the ALJ made the following findings of fact:

"Having reviewed the documentary evidence, having heard the witnesses' testimony, having observed the witnesses' demeanor, and assessed their credibility, the undersigned finds the greater weight of the evidence supports the following findings of fact:
"....
"C. Facts Forming the Basis of Dismissal
"Palmore has been a Registered Nurse ('RN') since 1999. Palmore had prior experience working as a Staff Nurse at Cooper Green Hospital (1994-1999); Birmingham Veterans Administration Hospital (1991-1993); and Baptist Medical Center-Princeton (1990-1991).
"Palmore taught nursing classes for Fortis, a proprietary School of Nursing in 2014, during her employment at DPH Walker County. Palmore also taught nursing at Bevill State Community College ('Bevill') during 2011, while employed by DPH at the [Walker County Health Department] Clinic [('the Clinic')].
"Palmore's lateral transfer from case management to providing direct patient care at the Clinic was accompanied by training and orientation in the health care modules utilized by the Clinic. From October 2013 until February 2014, Palmore had written protocol materials and preceptor oversight in transitioning into her clinical role. Palmore insists that her training was inadequate and that her guidance by preceptors was compromised by the retirements of two of her preceptors. Her third preceptor, Karla Legg ('Legg'), was present at the Clinic from the time of Palmore's clinical activities in October 2013 until the termination of her employment in [October] 2014. Legg provided direct preceptor guidance to Palmore from March 2014 until July 2014. DPH provided training and then retraining to Palmore when she expressed her discomfort over the training DPH had given her. Nurse Educator Marilyn Knight and Dr. John Hankins ('Dr. Hankins') responded to Parmore by having her retrained in the extant modules.
"Dr. Hankins testified that an RN, by virtue of the training required to achieve that designation, should be competent to follow protocols and to recognize the critical importance of accurate documentation in a patient's chart.
"Considering her lengthy experience as an RN and her teaching of nursing at Fortis and Bevill, one could expect that Palmore could accurately take vital signs and properly record them in a patient's chart. With written protocols to guide her activities at the Clinic, one could expect that a nurse with Palmore's experience could deliver nursing services consistent with established protocols.
"Palmore failed to follow the DPH written protocols in providing services to patients. When Palmore failed to give hemoglobin tests to five [Women Infants and Children Program ('WIC')] patients at the Clinic in March 2014, Dr. Hankins ordered that Palmore be retrained in various modules. Palmore acknowledged her mistake with the WIC patients. Palmore said she could not remember all the protocols. Palmore was removed from providing clinical services to WIC patients in March 2014. Palmore received training in providing WIC services to ...

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