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Beach v. Handforth-Kome

Supreme Court of Alaska

November 29, 2013

Michele Lyn BEACH, Appellant,
v.
Sonia HANDFORTH-KOME, Individually, and Iliuliuk Family Health Services, Inc., Appellees.

Page 54

Joe P. Josephson, Josephson Law Offices, LLC, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Elizabeth P. Hodes, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Anchorage, for Appellees.

Before: FABE, Chief Justice, WINFREE, STOWERS, MAASSEN, and BOLGER, Justices.

OPINION

MAASSEN, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Michele Beach was fired from her job at Iliuliuk Family and Health Services, a health clinic, when the clinic's executive director concluded that prescription drug records had been systematically falsified and that Beach was responsible. Beach sued the clinic and its executive director, alleging that they had breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing by conducting an unfair investigation and unlawfully retaliating against Beach for her suggestions about improvements in the clinic's security systems. The superior court granted summary judgment to the defendants, and Beach appeals. We affirm.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

In July 2008, Michele Beach was hired as a medical assistant at Iliuliuk Family and Health Services, a family health clinic. In the months following her arrival, Beach identified what she considered to be serious issues with the clinic's handling of prescription drugs, staffing, and necessary medical equipment, and she suggested improvements in some of these areas to her supervisors.

On December 18, 2008, a patient told the clinic's Medical Director, Dr. Heidi Baines, that she had bought Vicodin, a prescription narcotic drug, from a woman who claimed to have obtained the pills from a clinic employee. Dr. Baines passed this information on to the clinic's Executive Director, Sonia Handforth-Kome. Handforth-Kome left a message for the police " that we [probably have a] drug issue that we need[ ] the police to investigate," then met Dr. Baines at the clinic that evening after closing time. The two of them began reviewing the records for July through October 2008, the period that seemed relevant based on the patient's report.

The clinic's dispensary records included " drug logs" maintained separately for each narcotic drug, which identified among other things the patient, the date the drug was dispensed, the dispensing health-care provider, the number of pills dispensed, and the clinic employee who dispensed them. Clinic practice required that these logs be cross-checked daily or almost daily by a tally of the pills still remaining in the clinic's inventory. Also relevant to the review were patients' medical charts, which usually included the provider's notes about the number of pills that had been prescribed along with a sticker signed by the employee who dispensed them, verifying the number; and documents called " superbills," which were detailed lists for each patient of all the charges made to the patient and the patient's insurer.

In their review of these records for the drug Vicodin, Handforth-Kome and Dr. Baines found a pattern of discrepancies, beginning in September 2008 and increasing in frequency into December. They found that although the daily pill counts matched the logs, the number of pills being dispensed for

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some patients was far in excess of those being prescribed for and billed to those patients; in other cases there were records of pills being dispensed to patients who had not been seen on the date of the entry or patients who did not even exist. In many instances the log showed that 40 pills had been dispensed while comparison with the other records showed that the patient had been prescribed and billed for only 20, leaving the other 20 pills unaccounted for. On every entry for which the discrepancy could not be explained by a cross-check of the medical charts or superbills, the person who had initialed it was Beach. Handforth-Kome could think of no valid explanation for the many discrepancies and concluded that what they had uncovered was a " flagrant, systematic and extensive falsification of the dispensary log" and " a ...


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