NEW ORLEANS -- An employee who was recently fired from a home for the elderly has filed for whistleblower protection, claiming she was let go after she raised concerns about the death of a resident last month.
Deleria Rancifer was fired from the Malta Park Assisted Living Center one week after she raised questions about how staff members handled the death of a 90-year-old resident in her room.
As required at all death scenes, police were called to the Uptown apartment complex after the Oct. 24 death and reported nothing out of the ordinary. But Rancifer gives a very different account, saying that the room was cleaned up before officers arrived.
Rancifer said she was told about the altered room by other employees.
'They had a broken cup on the floor. And the lamp was knocked over.' Rancifer said. 'She said, you know, I couldn't leave that like that. She said, 'We had to clean up before police got there.''
It's against state law to alter the circumstances of a death, even one due to natural causes. Rancifer said that when employees told her about the room being cleaned up, she expressed concerns to her supervisor as well as her attorney.
'So I started putting it in writing. I put it on paper and let her know,' Rancifer said.
Exactly one week later, Rancifer was terminated. She is now filing for whistleblower protection, a state law that protects employees who report wrongdoing.
'They figured I knew too much, because I had been reporting a lot of things going on to them. That's my job, to tell them when things aren't right,' Rancifer said.
Rancifer's attorney, Claire Trimble, said the timing of Rancifer's dismissal raised a red flag.
'We believe her termination was specifically involved with her raising questions about the level of care,' Trimble said. 'We began an official inquiry both with the management of Malta Park and we copied the Department of Health and Hospitals.'
Trimble said this wasn't the first time Rancifer voiced concerns to her bosses, a pattern of reporting that she believes establishes her client as a whistleblower.
'She's actually very clearly a whistleblower,' Trimble said. 'She reported violations to her supervisors in the past six and seven months.'
The management of Malta Park and its attorneys strongly dispute the Rancifer's claims, saying she never expressed her concerns about the death. They say her termination was completely unrelated.
'She was terminated for cause and she was terminated for violation of company policy,' said Malta Park attorney Evans Schmidt.
Schmidt was at the meeting in which Rancifer was fired. He said she didn't raise any complaints until after she was let go.
'She was not involved at all and or even present when we had a resident, a 90-year-old resident, who died in her sleep, peacefully. She never expressed any concerns about that matter to her employers or management here at Malta Park, so we categorically deny that,' Schmidt said.
The circumstances of the death are currently being reviewed by the state Department of Health and Hospitals. Meanwhile, Rancifer's wrongful termination claim and Malta Park's counterclaims will have to be resolved in court.