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Appeal of NLRB, defense of two new lawsuits alleging retaliation for raising safety concerns are keeping Legacy lawyers busy.

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Unity Center for Behavioral Health, set up to divert people struggling with mental health crises from hospital emergency rooms, was supposed to improve patient care. But the center has struggled, beset with findings of mismanagement, unsale conditions and low staffing. Legacy Health says it's made improvements.Seven months after the federal government decided patient safety concerns at the Unity Center for Behavioral Health had eased enough for it to continue operating, Legacy Health continues to be embroiled in disputes related to the Northeast Portland regional emergency psychiatric facility .

On Thursday Legacy announced it plans to appeal a recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board to let Unity nurses vote on whether to have a union after 170 Unity nurses signed cards calling for it. The union drive at Unity was based on nurses' complaints that Legacy doesn't listen to them and, worse, retaliates against those who raise concerns.

Legacy has repeatedly denied retaliation. In the NLRB matter, it claims Unity doesn't count as a stand-alone facility under labor law, and argues that any union vote would have to include nurses at nearby facilities in Northeast Portland including Legacy Randall Children's Hospital and Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.

After an NLRB regional director, Ronald Hooks, issued a June 12 ruling that decisively rejected Legacy's arguments, the health system issued statements saying it would administratively appea the ruling to NLRB headquarters in Washington, D.C.

"We disagree with this ruling and intend to appeal the decision. We remain steadfast in our position that Unity Center is part of Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, as evidenced by the Joint Commission survey at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, Unity Center and Randall Children's Hospital currently under way this week. We value our employees and the opportunity to speak directly with them on all matters related to the care of our patients."

Meanwhile, two more Unity Center nurses have filed suit in the last month. Both of them say they had shared safety concerns and information with Oregon OSHA investigators who first blew the whistle on mismanagement and lack of safety at Unity, issuing a report in March 2018.

Last week longtime nurse Heidi Domke filed suit in Multnomah Circuit Court saying that she'd raised concerns about Unity before it even opened, after going on a tour with Legacy managers.

"On two separate occasions in 2016, Domke toured the Unity facility, then under development. Domke noted grave concerns about safety hazards posed to staff and patients due to the way that Unity was being organized, designed, and structured. Domke raised complaints about these safety issues to her nurse manager, and then elevated her complaints to higher leadership in (Legacy)."

According to the suit, she then raised concerns to OSHA as well as to her managers, at one point causing them to ask if she was planning to file a lawsuit. Her complaint says she faced a pattern of retaliation afterwards, and she was terminated last October.

Legacy, in a statement, denied Domke's claims. "Legacy Health and Unity Center for Behavioral Health strongly disagree with the assertions made by Domke in her filing. Legacy Health is looking look forward to the legal process to refute these claims publicly.

"Unity Center for Behavioral Health has worked hard since its opening to create a safe and healing environment, not only for our community's most vulnerable patients but for the dedicated caregivers who help individuals overcome their struggles with mental illness. That commitment to staff and patients continues every day the center is open.

"Unity Center for Behavioral Health was founded on the model of Trauma-Informed Care, which is designed to empower people and help them regain their sense of dignity. It was the right thing to do, and Legacy Health and Unity Center for Behavioral Health remains committed to this vital care model."

Legacy issued an almost-identical statement in response to a very similar lawsuit filed last month by another nurse who'd worked at Unity and cooperated with state investigators, Christopher Lambert.

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