Leah Willingham Published

Lawsuit: Hospital Director Fired After Virus Patient Concern

A former director at a West Virginia hospital has filed a lawsuit alleging that he was fired after he raised concerns about the safety of patients who were on ventilators and receiving other respiratory care services during a surge of COVID-19 cases.

Mark Mustard was fired as director of cardiopulmonary and therapy services at Princeton Community Hospital in September 2021. His departure from the West Virginia University Medicine affiliate came amid the surging delta COVID-9 variant “at a time when respiratory care was crucial to the community,” according to a lawsuit filed last week in Mercer County Circuit Court.

Mustard, then 63, alleges he was terminated after he reported concerns about the quality of medical care being provided as the number of patients requiring respiratory care increased during the pandemic. Mustard was “highly outspoken” about the need for more staff in the respiratory services department “in order to provide an adequate level of care to its patients and the community,” the lawsuit reads.

The suit states he was not warned that his job was in jeopardy or given a reason for the termination, which came less than one month after he received an “exceptional” performance review that included an incentive bonus of more than $6,000.

Angela Jones-Knopf, director of media relations and public affairs for West Virginia University Medicine, declined to comment Tuesday on the lawsuit.

“We do not comment on pending litigation,” she wrote in an email.

Mustard was employed at Princeton Community Hospital from August 2017 until his termination on Sept. 23, 2021, according to the lawsuit. He started at Princeton Community Hospital as the director of cardiopulmonary in 2017. In 2018, was promoted to director of cardiopulmonary and therapy services.

Under his new title, his job responsibilities expanded to include speech therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation and occupational services, and physical therapy. Over the course of his time as director, Princeton Community Hospital continued to increase Mustard’s job responsibilities, according to the lawsuit.

When Princeton Community Hospital acquired Bluefield Regional Medical Center, the lawsuit states that Mustard was charged with overseeing Bluefield Regional Medical Center’s respiratory services department.

Throughout August and September 2021, while the COVID-19 delta variant was surging nationwide and the hospital’s ICU pends were full, Mustard met with Princeton Community Hospital’s executive team multiple times to voice his concerns. He said the night shift respiratory staff was exhausted and being overworked and that patients were not receiving the appropriate number of aerosol treatments.

In response, a hospital executive told him to “be more positive,” according to the lawsuit. He was later fired.