Former hospital director claims retaliation in lawsuit

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A former San Juan Regional Medical Center director has filed a lawsuit claiming she was fired by the hospital in retaliation for speaking out against the credentialing of unqualified radiologists.

Rebecca Hahn, formerly known as Rebecca Cochran, filed the lawsuit Sept. 16 in Aztec District Court and seeks unspecified damages on claims that include retaliation, breach of implied contract, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Hahn claims in the lawsuit she was told by her direct supervisor, John Buffington, not to voice concerns in September 2006 over the credentialing of resident students as locum tenens, or temporary, radiologists.

Hahn, who was then director of staff medical services, claims in the lawsuit the credentialing violated the hospital's by-laws, as well as its credentialing and privileging standards.

She also claims in the lawsuit that an attorney for the hospital told her in July 2012 one of those resident student radiologists later misread an appendix scan, causing a woman's miscarriage.

She says she met with hospital Chief Executive Officer Rick Wallace on July 16, 2012, to confront him about the alleged improper credentials and was subsequently fired on Sept. 21, 2012, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit names the hospital, Wallace, Buffington, and several other hospital employees as defendants.

Hospital spokeswoman Roberta Rogers said in a written response that the hospital was limited in what it could say, due to employee and medical privacy concerns, but she denied Hahn's claims.

"At all times, San Juan Regional Medical Center has used medically qualified providers to read radiology scans, and it does not know of any situation where a scan was misread because the provider was not medical qualified," Rogers said.

In a document the hospital provided to the county requiring disclosure of legal claims made against it between 2011 and 2013, there was no mention of a lawsuit containing allegations of a miscarriage.

The document, obtained earlier this year by The Daily Times through a public records request, was part of the hospital's application to be named the San Juan County Adult Detention Center medical provider.

Hahn also claims in the lawsuit that Wallace called the New Mexico Governor's Office after Hahn was fired and requested that Gov. Susana Martinez remove her as vice chair of the New Mexico Medical Board.

Hahn was replaced as a member of the board on April 15, 2013, but, according to medical board spokeswoman Amanda Quintana, Hahn's term officially expired on Dec. 31, 2012.

Quintana said Wallace was made a member of the board, also on April 15, 2013, but he replaced another board member, not Hahn.

The governor's spokesman, Michael Lonergan, said he has not seen the lawsuit, "but the allegations (regarding Hahn's departure from the state Medical Board) are baseless and flat out false."

"Ms. Hahn served out her four-year term and actually sat on the board an additional four months after her term had expired," Lonergan said. "Furthermore, Rick Wallace filed a vacant seat on the board; he did not replace her seat."

The hospital and its staff have not yet filed a formal response to the lawsuit, according to court records.

Hahn is being represented in the lawsuit by Mitch Burns of the Tucker, Burns, Yoder & Hatfield Law Firm.

Burns declined to comment.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.