Depression. It sounds depressing just saying the word. But, the word has come to mean many things in American society. For some, there’s the image of a woman sitting in a chair crying all day, the man stretched out on the sofa drinking beer while saying he’s “looking for work,” or the beggar on the street – looking unkept and unclean. Some cases of depression can be this severe. But, what about the majority of people in America that suffer from clinical depression that are highly functional, and working in all levels of business, government, and even healthcare. Well, I’m one of those high functioning people that suffers from depression. Unfortunately, my story gets very complicated because of bias, prejudice, ignorance, arrogance and vindictive behavior -behaviors that actually violate the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991.
by Larry L. Masterson, PAC
Let me give you the basics. In September 2002, I was determined as having a disability by the Connecticut, Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (BRS) –major depression with concomitant conversion disorder –right hemispheric dystonia to be exact. Thanks to support from the Connecticut, BRS Office and excellent doctors, I recovered and my rehabilitation plan allowed me to return to college. I was accepted in the Physician Assistant Program at Springfield College –one of the top PA programs in the country. I graduated Cum Laude with my Bachelors degree and completed the Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies with a 3.57 GPA. I also passed my national physician assistant boards with an admirable score as well.
During my medical training, each of my clinical rotations proved that I was a very competent medical provider. I excelled in the diagnostics of difficult and complicated patients. I could also apply my real-life experience into caring for the psychological needs of my patients. After completion of my clinical rotations, I was offered a job after graduation from several doctors. Of important note, during my medical training, even in high stress facilities, such as Hartford Hospital, Bay State -Emergency Department, St. Vincent’s and Mercy Medical Center -Emergency Department, my mental and physical health was excellent and I was medication free.
At the time of graduation, I was also able to physically function without medications and live an active life for the first time in several years. The effects of the conversion disorder that affected the entire right side of my body were almost nonexistent. I was routinely playing racquetball, golf, swimming and cycling without suffering any muscle contractures or dystonia. I am also a classical musician and returned to playing piano concerti and oboe in local orchestras, and have participated in three international piano competitions for amateur pianists. My quality of life was good, headed towards fantastic. However, let’s return to my career in medicine and my disability.
After completion of my degree, I had a significant student loan burden, and opted to utilize the National Health Service Corps, student loan repayment program. Since I lived in Colorado for over 20 years, I wanted to move back west –the outdoors and relaxing lifestyle should have made for a decent quality of life and prevent reactivation of my disability. I also hoped to prove that high quality, affordable, evidence based medicine could be practiced in a rural area. Ultimately, I accepted a position in a frontier medicine hospital in Scobey, MT –an affiliate of Billings Clinic. I will discuss Billings Clinic later in my story.
Most people in America have a vision of Montana as snow-capped mountains with small towns, cowboys on horseback, wide open prairies, relaxed lifestyle and a live-and-let-live attitude. While this imagery is partially accurate, workplace attitudes are quite the opposite. In Montana, “local rule” applies to everything. In other words, if you’re a local, you’re right, no matter how wrong you are. Worse yet, if you try to educate people about new standards of care, current legal interpretations and applications of medical law, or introduce anything new or different into the medical practices used in these rural hospitals, you’re just wasting your time. Worse yet, you may receive retaliation –as I did. I am not alone in regards to retaliation, as other “outsiders” experienced similar treatment as I. After all, I was the 12th provider in 11 years to work in Scobey.
The retaliation I experienced included hostile work environment, given a fraudulent job description, worked with nurses that practiced medicine without a license, had my physician assistant license threatened on multiple occasions, was accused of breaking the law -were no violation existed, worked in an environment where I became severely sleep deprived, blamed for the wrongful death of a patient -due to collusion; experienced retaliation on two occasions when I requested ADA accommodation, and finally, falsely accused of “threats and intimidation” to staff by the Human Resource Director. I truly believe the excuse of “threats and intimidation” was used to circumvent the ADA in order to terminate my employment.
Now, one would think with all of these labor violations and illegal medical issues going on, it would be easy to hire an attorney and get something accomplished. Well, not in Montana. During my 4½-years in Montana, I needed an attorney three times and contacted nearly four dozen attorneys and found it almost impossible to hire one. I also contacted the Montana Bar Association and Montana Legal Aid Services, none of which offered any help –other than the yellow pages. In my personal search for an attorney, the two most common reasons for not taking my cases were simple; “the firm doesn’t like to sue a local hospital, because it makes the firm look bad to the community,” or there was a “conflict of interest because of prior contracts with the hospital.” I eventually contact Gloria Allred –out of desperation. She referred me to the National Employment Law Organization (nela.org). There were no Montana attorneys listed on the site, and all of the out of state attorneys I contacted would not take me cases either. I even begged one attorney for help. He refused because I didn’t contact him first. If only I had known.
Attorneys aside, the real problem resides with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). I filed two complaints (2), and both investigations were improperly conducted. I also filed appeals, which went nowhere. To demonstrate how frustrating the EEOC process has been, the investigator from the EEOC in Seattle REFUSED to talk to my witnesses –even when the witness called the investigator. The Montana Human Rights Bureau investigator was so politically swayed in favor of the employer during her investigation that she, too, REFUSED to contact any of my witnesses that could have proven my case. After I filed my appeals, not one of my witnesses were contacted. So, why file appeals or cases for that matter if the EEOC will not investigate complaints.
A prudent person would think; “What do I have to do to get someone to listen to my story and actually do something?” Well, I consider myself a prudent and competent person and I sent a 25-page statement along with a CD containing support documentation and recordings of meetings to Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney General; EEOC Director; EEOC Office of Legislative Affairs and the Department of Labor; and also contacted 50-plus senators and members of congress in hopes that maybe they would offer some kind of advocacy or service. I have sent four letters to President Obama’s office, and I haven’t received a response still. I have never seen so many letters passing the buck to someone else. So, what I do I need to do to get someone from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to do a PROPER investigation of my claims?
I should say for the record that I eventually received a response from Zita Johnson-Betts from the Department of Justice, and she passed the buck to someone in the EEOC. In regards to my letter sent directly to the EEOC in Washington, DC; Mr. Maldonado, Seattle Regional Director, responded by telling me I failed to respond to their letter dated June 19, 2013. As a fact in point, I was evicted from my home in Billings, MT the same day the Seattle EEOC office mailed their letter. I NEVER received the letter because I was homeless!!! On June 21, 2013 I was sleeping in my car in Wisconsin. The EEOC never attempted to emailed or call, ever. I hope you are starting to see the picture I am painting for you.
Failure on the part of the EEOC to do their job properly, in accordance to the law and court decisions has ruined my life. I am not mentally disturbed, never threatened anyone in my life and considered an excellent medical provider. I have never had an inpatient stay for psychiatric care or emergency room stay for psychiatric observation. I have never taken leave for mental health issues. There are no workplace, patient related, or other such records demonstrating behavior or actions that would place coworkers or patients at risk –other than the false report by my former Montana employer; nor have any complaints ever been filed against me with a medical board or other regulatory agency for mental status issues. There are no arrest warrants or court documents questioning competency or orders requiring evaluations of competency. There is no history of absenteeism, poor job performance or depression related illnesses ever documented at any of my jobs in my entire life. In fact, my job performance in every job I have ever held is quit exemplary. Personality traits, cultural and perceptual differences between myself and former employers are not grounds for psychiatric evaluations.
Since losing my job in Montana, I have applied for over 237 jobs, been turned down on several occasions because of my termination from Billings Clinic. Despite references like this, I was denied an Oregon Medical License because I refuse undergo a “pre-emptive” psych evaluation –which violates the ADA. I lost a job in Phoenix because of statements illegally reported by Billings Clinic staff, and continue to have my reputation ruined by the false allegations from Billings Clinic and its affiliates. To complicate matters even worse, getting job references from doctors who know my knowledge and skill has also become problematic. Providers that are willing to give a job reference have been told not to do so by the Billings Clinic, Human Resources Director. Only Human Resources is allowed to give jobs references regarding my employment.
In the professional arena of physician assistants; medical boards, hospitals, clinics and potential supervising physicians want reference information from another doctor…namely, the PA’s most recent supervising physician and other licensed medical providers. When a doctor interviews a physician assistant for employment, the doctor is looking for a PA who will match that doctor’s medical approach and style, has a proven reliability in the clinic, and up to date medical knowledge and clinical skills. After all, that PA is going to be covered by the new supervising physician’s malpractice insurance. For this reason, a representative from Human Resources is not qualified to provide any such information.
Now, after working in Montana for Billings Clinic and its affiliate facilities, my life is more like a daze. I routinely awake at 3:00am with worry or anxiety attacks, and feel debilitating leg contractures from the conversion disorder. I wear wrist braces and a dental guard at night because of contractures. At times, everything combined is unbearable. My medications are not covered under the low cost health plans, so, I buy them when I can. I have not been able to find another PA position or get a state medical license. I am currently broke and have wiped-out my retirement fund. My credit is ruined, my bank account was closed because bank fees put me into extended overdraft, and I am in collections for other bills. I have no extended unemployment benefits available –thanks to congress, currently on the waiting list to interview for SSI, do not qualify for rent assistance, and was essentially homeless after getting evicted from my home in Billings, MT. Now, I am getting evicted again from my room in Springfield, Massachusetts. This is my second eviction in 10-months.
What disturbs me the most is that my reputation is ruined, and I did nothing wrong. No matter how many facts I present or how much medical evidence I give someone, their preconceived ideas of depression, combined with personal bias, prejudice, ignorance, arrogance and vindictive behavior keeps winning every battle I fight. Sadly, the organization that should be protecting my rights –the EEOC, has failed miserably.
So, when all is said and done, there’s not much I have left. I have the cloths on my back and a couple of amenities. I have a companion dog that is the only thing that keeps me going some days. Macy is great. She can tell when I’m getting really down, and comes over to me wanting a pat on the head and a walk. But, I almost had to give her up because I couldn’t buy dog food. Luckily, Purina gave me vouchers for 4 bags of dog food to get me through the next three months. So, here are the good parts of my life: I get $180 per month in food stamps and Macy gets dog food. WHOA! I’m livin’ large now!!!