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Employee Sues Hospital That Fired Her for Reporting COVID Vaccine Injuries to VAERS

Originally published on 22 May 2024

A physician’s assistant is suing a New York hospital system, alleging it violated the federal False Claims Act by failing to complete mandatory reporting to VAERS of injuries associated with the COVID-19 vaccine.

A physician’s assistant is suing a New York hospital system, alleging it violated the federal False Claims Act by failing to complete mandatory reporting of injuries associated with the COVID-19 vaccine to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

Deborah Conrad worked at United Memorial Medical Center, part of Rochester Regional Health (RRH), until October 2021, when she said she was fired for reporting vaccine-related adverse events.

Conrad filed the lawsuit in May 2023, but the complaint wasn’t unsealed and made publicly available until February, TrialSiteNews reported last week.

She is seeking job reinstatement and back pay for herself and civil penalties on behalf of the U.S. government.

Most importantly, Conrad told The Defender, she hopes the lawsuit will lead to changes in how vaccine adverse events are reported.

“How can anybody trust the vaccine program when medical professionals are not adhering to the reporting requirements of the one system we have in place that is meant to assure us that these things are safe?” she asked.

“I want policy change. I don’t care about the money, the vindication. I want to be able to trust the health system,” Conrad said.

Under the False Claims Act, whistleblowers can file a lawsuit on behalf of the federal government against an entity they allege profited from taxpayer funds by defrauding the government.

False Claims Act cases are initially sealed while the government investigates the cases and determines whether it will intervene and take the case on itself, or allow the whistleblower to proceed with the action.

The government decided not to intervene in the case. It is now unsealed and moving forward with Conrad as the “relator,” who gives evidence to the court on behalf of the U.S. government.

She told The Defender the evidence she is submitting to the court is substantial — she meticulously saved every email, patient file and recorded conversations with supervisors and other hospital staff.

United Memorial Medical Center, like all institutions in the U.S. that administered the COVID-19 vaccines, signed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) COVID-19 Vaccination Program Provider Agreement, according to the complaint.

The agreement stipulated that organizations providing the shots and received compensation for doing so from the federal government were required to “report moderate and adverse events following vaccination” to VAERS.

By not doing so, Warner Mendenhall, the attorney representing Conrad, told The Defender, they were out of compliance with the agreement. And, he added, the agreement clearly stipulates that non-compliance violates the False Claims Act.

The hospital not only failed to report cases, it blocked Conrad from submitting approximately 170 reports of serious adverse events to VAERS between May 27 and Oct. 6, 2021, Conrad said.

The hospital system also failed to report over 12,000 adverse events, the complaint alleges.

Mendenhall said they estimated that number based on the number of people vaccinated at one of the healthcare facilities or another nearby clinic who then presented at the hospital for treatment for an injury that was likely linked to the vaccine.

The complaint contains several examples of such cases.

On behalf of the U.S., Conrad is seeking damages that fall into what Mendenhall described as “three buckets.”

First, he said, each entity was paid an administrative fee — approximately $40 — for each injection. The suit seeks a refund of that money to the government for the thousands of shots administered.

Next, for every failure to report, there is a mandatory penalty of at least $20,000. For 12,000 cases, that would total more than $240,000,000.

Finally, the “third bucket” of damages would be the cost of the treatment that people had to pay for their vaccine injuries. By failing to meet their obligations as a vaccine provider, he said the hospital failed to provide people with the proper necessary treatment they ought to be entitled to and those costs should be reimbursed.

If Conrad prevails in court, the hospital will go bankrupt — but that isn’t the intent, Mendenhall said.

“We don’t want to bankrupt community hospitals,” he said. “That’s not what we are about. We want them to do their job, to do what they are supposed to do and file the reports,” he said. “And we want Deb Conrad rehired to run the program.”

Conrad is suing only one hospital system, but there are roughly 2,800 systems in the country, Mendenhall said. “As far as I know, not a single one of them met their obligations under the vaccination program participation agreement. And they all signed it.”

The False Claims Act, “is a way for us as a people, if we want to hold these providers accountable for their wrongdoing, we actually can do it,” Mendenhall told Trial Site News. “There’s a very clear pathway here. It’s outlined here, and they all agreed to it.”

Ray Flores, senior outside counsel for Children’s Health Defense, told The Defender the case represented a “bold effort to hold those who allegedly defrauded the people of the United States accountable.”

In detailing the ways the hospital precluded providers from reporting to VAERS, “the allegations in the complaint solve part of the mystery of why only 1% of vaccine injuries are reported,” he said.

Mendenhall also represents Pfizer whistleblower Brook Jackson, who sued the drugmaker under the False Claims Act.

Conrad: ‘I kept getting gaslit and made fun of and told I was crazy’ 

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Conrad had been a physician assistant for nearly 20 years. She spent most of that time as a hospitalist, working in inpatient medicine and the intensive care unit in the same hospital.

At United Memorial, she was director of Advanced Practice Providers, sat on the medical executive board, saw patients and was the first non-physician to receive the Physician Excellence award.

When the COVID-19 vaccine came out, her whole life changed, Conrad said. As she had done throughout her career, she reported to the hospital the safety issues and new trends in illness that she was seeing, such as elderly vaccinated people hospitalized for COVID-19 or young people with blood clots.

In researching whether providers in other places were witnessing the same issues, Conrad discovered VAERS — which she said she and her colleagues had never been told about, despite claims later made by the hospital — and began reporting cases.

She volunteered to take on this reporting role for the hospital, reporting all of the adverse events that came into the facility.

As the number of adverse events grew, the reporting became too onerous, so Conrad asked the hospital to develop a plan to efficiently complete the reports, to protect patients and to remain in compliance.

Instead, the hospital informed her it would be auditing her work.

The hospital accused Conrad of over-reporting and being “antivaxxy.” This was a problem, the hospital informed her in an email included in the complaint, because “we are very much advocating for patients to receive the vaccine.”

She was forbidden from filing reports for any patient she was not directly caring for, even though her leadership role meant she oversaw all patients, Conrad said.

If she had other concerns, they said she could register them in the hospital’s internal email system, “Safe Connect,” which she did. However, those reports weren’t going anywhere.

Concerned the events weren’t being reported and that the hospital was out of compliance with the agreement it had signed, Conrad began reaching out to the CDC, the FDA, the New York State Department of Health and the hospital accreditation board.

Rather than receiving support, Conrad said:

“I kept getting gaslit and made fun of and told I was crazy.

“Then I got called into a meeting and they threatened to report me to the state for spreading misinformation, saying that basically doing VAERS reports and talking to patients about their potential side effects is misinformation, and that I was spreading vaccine hesitancy, and that’s not allowed.

“And they said if it continued they were going to report me to have basically my license taken away. Wow. So at that point, I knew I was in real trouble.”

She contacted a lawyer and went public with her experience on The Highwire and in The New York Times. She also started a GoFundMe campaign, anticipating her possible firing.

The hospital threatened to report her to the New York State Society of Physician Assistants for spreading vaccine misinformation. Just a few months earlier, the same organization had nominated Conrad for a seat on the New York State Office of Professional Medical Conduct.

In what Conrad called “direct retaliation,” on Oct. 6, 2021, she was publicly surrounded at her workstation by human resources staff and escorted to a room where she was interrogated about her public comments.

“They basically told me, are you going to leave quietly or are we going to walk you out?” she said.

Conrad said the firing was very public and humiliating, which she thought was meant to scare others. “As a result of me being publicly fired, it’s my understanding that now no one [at the hospital] is reporting to VAERS,” she said.

Providers aren’t trained to use VAERS

The VAERS system is the primary public reporting system for flagging vaccine safety issues. For members of the public, it’s a voluntary system. However, healthcare professionals are required to report certain events.

Yet, Conrad said, she never learned about VAERS in her medical training and the hospital never offered training for the system. She said they never mentioned the system to staff until she complained publicly.

“We come out of school knowing every side effect for every drug known to man, because they have no liability shield, but we are never taught there could be anything wrong with vaccines,” she said.

“We didn’t even know there’s a reporting system. Why is that? Why do we have a liability shield for vaccines if they’re so safe? Why would we need it when we don’t have it for drugs that we know are not always safe? None of it makes sense,” she added.

Conrad said this “flawed” and “fraudulent” system is responsible for the rise in “vaccine hesitancy.” “They blame people like me for this hesitancy,” she said, “but they are the ones who created the issue by not enforcing” safety and injury reporting.

Instead, she said, the public health agencies normalized previously unthinkable ideas, such as it’s normal for vaccines to make people sick, or that reused cloth masks would protect from infectious disease and much more.

Healthcare is about safety, she said. “First, do no harm. That’s the oath I took when I graduated. But they’re using the doctors to harm patients unknowingly and not teaching them about the safety mechanisms we put in place.”

Conrad said she hopes the lawsuit will help change that. Now that it is unsealed, she said, “We’re able to go back out there and start talking about things because the public cannot forget. We cannot forget what has been done. Otherwise it’ll happen again.”

Mendenhall said he expects a response from the hospital system next week. He predicts they will submit a motion to dismiss, which he intends to contest.

“This is the first case of its kind,” he said. “I predict we will succeed in defending any motion to dismiss because Deb did such a good job with the evidence and her story is very compelling.”

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