Local woman wins lawsuit against UCHealth following complaints in 2015 of improper ultrasound probe disinfection

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - A big win for a woman who fought to protect patients at local hospitals. A jury of five women and one man awarded Beth Falcone more than $948,000 in damages at the end of the five-day trial that wrapped up last week.

The trial came nearly two years after the lawsuit was filed against the University of Colorado Health, stating Falcone was wrongfully fired because of her reports.

After working for UCHealth for 23 years, she reported vaginal ultrasound probes weren't getting disinfected properly. Another complaint was that there weren't enough sonographers to oversee the number of patients they had at both UCHealth Memorial Hospital North and the Central location.

The improper disinfection related to the CIDEX solution that was used in the cleaning process.

"The manufacturer's instructions say that the solution needs to be at a temperature of 68 degrees or higher," said Falcone's lawyer, Gary Kramer.

But because of construction and air conditioning issues, primarily at UCHealth Memorial Hospital North, "The temperature was frequently below and somewhat well below that number," said Kramer.

The complaints were filed in the summer of 2015. By September, she was fired. However, it still wasn't until April 2016 that the hospital did anything, only after the state looked into the issue.

"Beth made a complaint with the Colorado Department of Public health and Environment that reported that concern, specifically and as a result of her complaint, the state conducted a survey that was effectively an investigation of that issue," Kramer said.

The state released its findings in August 2016. Shortly after, the lawsuit was filed - the first of its kind to go to trial in Colorado.

As of April 2016, a new system was put into place.

"They are now using an automated system that is a great improvement over what they are using previously," Kramer said.

Despite her win, because she was fired, Kramer said she's still struggling to find full-time employment.

"She will probably have to leave Colorado Springs and probably even more so, the state of Colorado entirely, in order to find gainful employment to continue her career," said Kramer.

Still, he calls her his hero, saying its the duty of healthcare workers to report these types of issues.

"They should never have to choose between their job, their employment and their livelihood and a problem that might affect patient safety. They have to be able to report that without fear of retaliation, and that's this case was about," Kramer said.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the legal team has received zero reports of women who may have received an infection from the procedure before it was fixed.

A spokesperson with UCHealth also released the following statement in response to the trial outcome:

UCHealth Memorial is obviously disappointed in the jury’s decision. We maintain that we had an appropriate and legal reason for terminating the employee. UCHealth Memorial is now considering filing an appeal of the verdict or a motion for a new trial.