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County doctor awarded $1.5M in wrongful firing case

Former chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Valley Medical Center claims retaliation over his concerns about safety, patient care

A jury awarded a former Santa Clara County psychiatrist $1.5 million last week for what the doctor described as a retaliatory firing, according to court documents.

Menlo Park resident Dr. Jan Weber, a former chief of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Hospital and Clinics, sued the county for wrongful termination after his November 2014 firing. The California-wide Bohm Law Group, Inc. represented Weber in the case.

Weber, 49, said he lost favor with county administrators when he expressed concerns about patient care and worker safety.

"I was advocating for good quality care for a long time," said Weber, who worked with the county-owned and -operated Valley Medical for nearly six years before he left. "The administration felt like I was putting them on the spot," he said.

Patients and hospital managers complained to Weber about inadequate patient care, he said. Urgent care workers turned away children because they didn't have experience working with that age group, he said. Hospital staff refused to give one patient in crisis an emergency evaluation from a psychiatrist, he said.

Valley Medical Center fired Weber because of his purported low productivity and for canceling an appointment for a patient who was 25 minutes late, Weber's termination letter filed with the lawsuit states.

Valley Medical provides a safety net for people who otherwise don't have access to health care, he said. County residents with no medical coverage or who can't afford services can be treated at the center, according to the health care system's website.

"These are people who can't just get a second opinion from Stanford [Health Care or the Mayo Clinic," he said. "I had a special obligation to provide the very best care ... . There were glaring shortcomings in how we were providing care."

Weber brought up about 90 different issues with county management during his tenure there, he said. Staff told Weber about unsafe working conditions, including a lack of security officers in the psychiatry emergency room. There were assaults by patients on a regular basis and staff members left the center because of concerns, he said.

In 2017 Valley Medical Center care teams treated more than 275,000 people, according to the center. The same year, Valley Medical staff provided over 800,000 medical treatments in the emergency department and other outpatient settings, according to the center.

The county declined to comment on the jury award for this story.

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