Ex-workers file suit against Cummington rehab facility over COVID response

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  • The addiction treatment center then known as Swift River, now named the Cummington Inpatient Rehab Center, is shown in 2017. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/6/2021 8:22:35 PM

CUMMINGTON — Management at a hilltown addiction treatment center is accused in a lawsuit of firing employees for taking time off after exposure to COVID-19.

The four-count lawsuit, filed April 28 in Hampshire Superior Court, alleges that Vertava Health LLC failed to adequately respond to COVID-19 in its Cummington/Plainfield facility and retaliated against those who took issue with its response.

It also alleges wage theft, claiming that time was deducted from workers’ pay for breaks that were not taken, a count that is open to all current and former workers at the facility similarly situated — not just the plaintiffs.

Vertava Health operates the Cummington Inpatient Rehab Center, in Cummington and Plainfield, a residential addiction recovery facility formerly known as Swift River.

The plaintiffs are Ada Langford and Mark Schwaber, of Greenfield, Christopher Maschino, of Springfield, Alyssa Phillips, of West Springfield, and Stephen Seward, of Great Barrington. They are asking for the maximum relief allowable under the law and a jury trial. Langford and Schwaber are married and reside together.

Shawn Daugherty, area vice president of operations of Vertava Health, released a statement in response to a request for a comment for this story.

“At Vertava Health we are committed to the safety and well-being of our staff and maintaining the highest level of quality and care for our patients,” reads part of Daughtery’s statement. “As a matter of policy, we do not discuss active litigation.”

The lawsuit alleges that Langford and Phillips were terminated for taking sick leave related to their exposure to coronavirus, as well as for reporting to management violations of government and professional COVID-19 standards. It also alleges Langford’s termination was linked to her complaints to government agencies.

It further alleges that Maschino and Schwaber were in a work environment so intolerable that they had to resign their posts in order to “avoid exposing themselves and others to the dangers of COVID-19.”

The lawsuit alleges that the facility did not quarantine patients who were exposed to COVID-19, in contradiction to state guidelines.

“Mr. Daugherty, without citing any legal authority, told Mr. Maschino that it would be illegal for Vertava to keep patients in ‘seclusion’ (i.e., quarantined in their rooms away from others) without evidence that they have been infected,” reads part of the lawsuit. “Mr. Maschino expressed his concerns about how COVID-19 protocols were being handled and told Mr. Daugherty that there were alternatives to his approach, but Mr. Daugherty dismissed his concerns and suggestions.”

Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that patients were admitted without getting COVID-19 tests, instead getting tested on-site. This was in contradiction to the policy posted on Vertava’s website, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit also alleges that Vertava did not require either staff or patients to wear face masks, and that patients largely did not wear them in practice. Additionally, it alleges that Vertava did not offer guidance on when and for how long staff should quarantine after exposure to COVID-19.

“Prior to February 2021, Vertava had not established clear protocols with regard to how to prevent or manage a COVID-19 outbreak,” reads part of the lawsuit.

It also mentions the February termination of Dr. Alan Weiner, the medical director at the Cummington campus, after Weiner expressed concerns about Vertava’s COVID-19 protocols to Daugherty that were not adopted.

“Vertava’s termination of Dr. Weiner’s employment was motivated, at least in part, by Dr. Weiner’s communications with Mr. Daugherty and others regarding his concerns about Vertava’s COVID-19 protocols,” reads part of the lawsuit.

Weiner is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says that Langford complained about the COVID-19 conditions at the facility to the Cummington Board of Health and Plainfield Board of Health, and that Schwaber also complained to the Cummington Board of Health. The lawsuit also says that Langford’s complaints resulted in a partial site visit by the Cummington Board of Health.

When terminated, the lawsuit alleges that Langford was told that her termination was because her actions didn’t align with Vertava’s values. Vertava’s Employee Relations Manager, DaMichael McLean was present at the meeting when Langford was informed of her firing, the lawsuit alleges.

“Ms. Langford responded by asking whether Mr. McLean meant she was being fired because she took time off pending her COVID-19 test results and because of her reports to Vertava’s management and to the local Boards of Health regarding Vertava’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak at the Cummington campus,” reads part of the lawsuit. “Mr. McLean responded by simply stating, ‘Yes.’”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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