DonQuenick Joppy, a 39-year-old registered nurse (RN) from Colorado, alleges racial discrimination led to her termination and ultimate charge of manslaughter. In September 2021, the manslaughter charges against her were dropped “in the interest of justice.” In April 2022, she filed federal charges against The Medical Center of Aurora, alleging racial discimination. Employees, Katie Weihe and Bonnie Andrews, as well as HealthOne who owns the medical center, are also named in the lawsuit.
Racial Discrimination Accusations at the Medical Center of Aurora
After her first year at The Medical Center of Aurora, things reportedly began to change for DonQuenick. She says she was treated differently from her White co-workers.
She alleges she was not allowed to grow or advance in her career at the facility due to racial discrimination. According to the complaint, when she applied for an opportunity to train to work with cardiac patients, she was told by the charge nurse, Michael Oleszczuk, it required “much deeper critical thinking and much better organizational skills.”
According to the claim, this same charge nurse allegedly told her on a separate occasion that she could “clean his house and clip his dog’s toenails.”
It is also alleged that DonQuenick was falsely accused of stealing a White patient’s credit card and purchasing a stethoscope. She was restricted to one area of the ICU and not allowed to go in the main break room or locker room with her co-workers. This was allegedly done without an investigation and thanked by human resources for not making a “big fuss” over it.
DonQuenick also recounts how she was assigned three patients when there was a two-to-one ratio in the ICU. Her concerns continued to be ignored by management. When she attempted to transfer out of the ICU, the documents indicate she was put on a “retaliatory” performance improvement plan.
The allegations of racial discrimination such as these are what DonQuenick says led to the investigation and manslaughter charges in the end.
Dropped Manslaughter Charges
DonQuenick worked at The Medical Center of Aurora for two years in the intensive care unit (ICU). She was nominated for the Daisy Award three times. The American Heart Association recognized her with an excellence award for performing CPR and saving a patient’s life. She also received excellent reviews from a previous patient she cared for in the ICU.
On May 24, 2019, a 94-year-old male patient with septic shock and multi-organ failure was transferred to the ICU at The Medical Center of Aurora for palliative care. He was intubated and on a ventilator. He came under the care of DonQuenick late in her shift. Her shift ended at 7 AM. The day shift was short-staffed, so she stayed over to assist the day-shift nurse with the patient.
The family requested the patient be removed from the ventilator, and the doctor gave a verbal order to another nurse to remove the patient from the ventilator around 8 AM. The other nurse delegated the verbal order to DonQuenick. She in turn called the respiratory therapist (RT).
The RT was unable to come immediately but talked DonQuenick through turning off the ventilator. According to the claim, the RT visited the patient later and removed the ventilator. The patient died of natural causes according to the death certificate.
Later, a nurse supervisor voiced concerns over how the patient’s end-of-life measures were handled. According to reports, this supervisor had acted in a discriminatory manner toward DonQuenick prior to this incident. The concerns of the supervisor prompted the hospital to investigate the incident. DonQuenick was found to have acted without a documented order. No order was on the chart until after the patient had expired. She was terminated for that and for staying over two hours after her shift ended.
The investigation was reported to the Colorado Attorney General’s Office which decided to charge DonQuenick with manslaughter, negligent death of an at-risk person, and neglect of an at-risk person in November 2020. However, in September 2021, the charges were dropped “in the interest of justice.”
Statement From The Medical Center of Aurora
Rachel Robinson, The Medical Center of Aurora’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations said, “The lawsuit that has been filed against the Medical Center of Aurora is without merit and is a tactic by a disgruntled former colleague.”
Robinson went on to say, “We have the utmost respect for our patients and their family’s end-of-life decisions, and we work hard to honor those decisions. When processes designed to ensure the comfort and dignity of patients are not followed, we take appropriate action, including reporting to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, as required.”
Statement From Joppy’s Attorney
DonQuenick’s attorney, Jennifer Robinson said, “She’s pretty much homeless now and hasn’t recovered since all of this happened. Who is going to hire a nurse who has manslaughter charges against her, even if they are dropped? It’s just not cool to treat people this way.”
Statement From DonQuenick
DonQuenick reports suffering great loss due to the racial discrimination she experienced and the ultimate charges of manslaughter. She said, “It’s wild. My life has been turned upside down. I never killed anyone. I’m a great nurse.”
Support of DonQuenick
As more and more people are hearing about DonQuenick’s situation, they are starting to speak out in support of DonQuenick.
A public support group on Facebook has been established to raise awareness and help garner support for DonQuenick. The name of the group is Support for DonQuenick RN. At the time of this writing, there are currently 574 members.
The Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN) also held a webinar on November 21, 2022, titled “In the Interest of Justice: Reckoning with the Harsh Truths of Nursing” in which they also raised awareness about the case. Amanda Golino also shared the event in the Facebook group. She tagged the American Nurses Association and the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses in hopes they would also address the case.