10/21/10 — Cherry worker fights for his job

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Cherry worker fights for his job

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 21, 2010 1:46 PM

For more than a year, O'Tonious Raynor has been fighting to get his job back at Cherry Hospital after being accused of abusing a patient. Today, he was expected to have the opportunity to make his case before the state personnel commission.

Raynor, who was fired in April 2009 after being accused of abusing a patient who had first attacked him, says he realizes he should have responded differently that March night, but added he was simply doing the best he could to protect himself.

However, he said, his intent was never to hurt the patient, and that there were also things Cherry officials could have done differently so as not to have put him in such a volatile situation.

"If you look at the video from the outside, it looks like I was trying to hurt that guy. But if I'd been trying to hurt him ... There are probably some things I could have done differently, but there also are things they could have done differently. They put me by myself alone with a guy they said had recently been violent," he said.

Raynor explained that on the night the incident occurred, he was pulled from his psych rehab unit and asked to sit with this patient who was being kept on a separate ward because of his aggressive behavior -- a move he described as counter to the hospital's desire to keep a continuity of care. Working with him was a female agency nurse who also was not familiar with the patient's history, and who, he said, was not familiar with all the hospital's safety procedures -- the reason she had to leave the ward for more than three minutes to find help.

He described the incident as occurring suddenly -- that one minute he was talking with the patient, who suffers from schizophrenia, and the next he was being punched in the face. And he admitted to pushing the patient down and pinning him against a piece of furniture in the common room before dragging him down the hall toward the bedrooms, where, the hospital administration pointed out, there are no surveillance cameras.

"At that point (after being attacked) they said I should have walked away," Raynor said. "And yes, after everything that's happened, walking away would have been the right thing to do. But he was telling me that when he got up he was going to kill me, and I really believed he might, so I chose not to let him up."

He admitted, though, that his actions did not follow the proper hospital protocol -- at the time, a method called NCI.

But, he said, his personal pager was not working, and he was not trying to hurt the patient, just to protect himself. And, he explained, the reason he was dragging the patient toward the bedrooms and not the restraint room was because he was disoriented after the attack. Additionally, he questioned the hospital's assertion that he injured the patient's hand -- already in a cast -- when he "accidentally" stepped on it, despite it being the hand the patient had punched him with.

"Staff get a bad reputation out there when things don't go according to plan," he said. "But it doesn't ever go according to the way it's supposed to. You just try to keep from getting hurt, and I don't think the administration realizes that because they're never in that situation."

Raynor also pointed to his work history, in which his performance reviews since he started at Cherry in 1995 were consistently between good, very good and outstanding.

In fact, in an Jan. 29, 2008, performance review, supervisor Kathleen Byrd, RN, noted that he "works very well with staff and patients; very observant of patient behaviors; quick to intervene to prevent incidents on the ward."

Then, in a May 16, 2008, performance review in which he earned an overall rating of "very good," Ms. Byrd again noted that "Mr. Raynor is quick to respond to the aid of staff and patients; very observant of patient behaviors; stays over frequently to help the hospital. Mr. Raynor will work where others are reluctant to. He is able to handle any difficult situation that may arise, and he will work with our most difficult patients."

Raynor also noted the fact that despite the hospital's claims of abuse, he was never criminally charged.

"Sometimes I think about just letting it go, but I've come this far," Raynor said. "I feel like I was treated differently. I mean, it was so bad, but you don't file charges? Mr. Cook said it was the worst case of abuse he'd ever seen, but no charges filed?"

And in July, following a March hearing in which Raynor represented himself, a state administrative law judge seemed to agree, recommending that while Cherry was within its bounds to fire Raynor, a more appropriate punishment would be a 45-day suspension, a demotion of one pay grade, a requirement of more training, and a warning that the "slightest error in judgment with respect to assaultive conduct in the future will result in his immediate dismissal without warning."

Whether or not that recommendation is followed, though, will be decided following Thursday's hearing.

But now, Raynor said, he's not sure he could ever actually go back to Cherry Hospital.

"I don't know if I can. It's all I can do ... I still see this guy punching me," he said, adding that he still gets nervous in certain situations in public.

Currently he is seeing a counselor to help him deal with those lingering issues -- one he had to find on his own, though, after not receiving any help from Cherry.

"The only person they (Cherry) let me see was the chaplain, and all he told me was to go take a long walk at the Cliffs of the Neuse. That was all Cherry Hospital has offered me to get through this," he said.

Raynor also said he is dealing with permanent damage to his left eye as a result of the attack -- that he never had to wear glasses prior to being hit -- and that if he doesn't get his job back at Cherry, it will be hard to be hired as a CNA anywhere else with this incident now on his record.