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  Sounding the Alarm Pointing to Truth Got Them Fired

By Allison K. Jones
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
June 12, 1990

Steve Patton, vice president of marketing at Central Massachusetts Health Care, thought he was just doing his job when he discovered an expense in the books in 1987 that seemed too high.

When he reported it to his bosses, he was chastized. When he persisted, he was fired.

Richard J. Gilmartin and Sister Kathleen Kelley knew they could be fired when they confronted the co-founder of the House of Affirmation in Whitinsville with their discovery he was siphoning off thousands of dollars to buy real estate for himself. To their surprise, the Rev. Thomas A. Kane said he trusted their judgment and would step aside.

Days later, however, Gilmartin, the acting national clinical director, Sister Kelley and the 15 department heads who publicly supported their action were sent packing.

There's no hero's welcome for the bearer of bad news. People who blow the whistle on corporate corruption are in for a bumpy ride.

It is an experience most find tramatic.

"These are usually quiet people," said attorney Roy A. Bourgeois of Worcester, who represented Patton. Bourgeois has had more than other 30 other clients over the last 10 years who also confronted employers about wrongdoings.

"They're people who the company characterizes as troublemakers. But when you look at them, they have never been in trouble before. They've always done a good job. They're fiercely loyal.

"They're not Norma Raes who are out organizing. They're just dedicated people who were faced with something they feel they have to take a stand on."

CHAIN OF EVENTS

The firing of Steve Patton from Central Massachusetts Health Care (CMHC) in January 1988 set off a chain of events that led to the upheaval of the entire agency: The U.S. Postal Service launched an investigation of it for mail fraud.

The agency's president, James M. Scoggins, was fired at the urging of the state Division of Insurance.

A federal grand jury in Boston is now investigating the case.

The CMHC board of trustees was reorganized.

A $10 million class-action suit was filed by CMHC doctors against Scoggins under the federal Racketeer Influenced, Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). That suit was settled out of court.

Patton received an out-of-court settlement from CMHC after he filed suit for his firing.

Patton's firing is now water over the dam for CMHC. The agency has moved on to other things.

Yet it's an experience Patton still lingers over; an episode in his life that may never be tidied up and packed away.

A tall man with green eyes and curly brown hair, Patton said the experience didn't leave him disillusioned about the world.

"What I thought afterward was that it's a lot easier to deceive people than I thought," he said.

He sighed and gazed out the window.

"A lot of people didn't think (my actions were) an altruistic act," he said. "That hurts.

"There was a big personal loss in taking this action. The hardest thing to lose was the position. At that point in my career, I was exactly where I wanted to be."

That ended within weeks of Patton confronting his superiors. One Friday his boss walked in his office and said resign or be fired, Patton recounted.

That day, Patton went home and cried.

"I didn't feel like it destroyed my life," he said. "I didn't lose my wife or a child ... (but) this was my dream job. I was hoping to stay with CMHC a long time."

Gilmartin understands Patton's feelings.

The 56-year-old clinical psychologist believed he would spend the rest of his life working for the House of Affirmation, a residential treatment program for religious professionals with mental health problems.

Gilmartin had been a rising star in the organization. He'd been hired as a therapist in 1975. Seven years later, he was director of the center. Then in 1986, he was named acting clinical director of the five centers nationwide.

But he was fired within days of confronting the agency's co-founder.

ANGER, OUTRAGE

"Your phone call started a lot of feelings up again - anger at being treated that way, outrage at the injustice," he said when reached in Canada, where he now lives.

"I had never blown the whistle before. I was never an activist. It put a lot of stress on my marriage. I became personally very distant. I jammed up. I had to keep a lid on my anger (in order to function).

"It took a couple of years to get over the hurt and anger. I still feel it."

Today, the residential treatment program of the House of Affirmation no longer exists.

After the firing of 17 department heads in 1986, the House's board of directors hired Samuel R. De Simone, a former Massachusetts assistant attorney general, to investigate their charges. DeSimone found at least some of the allegations against Kane were true and recommended the House try to recover monetary damages from him, rather than file civil or criminal charges.

Kane agreed in October 1987 to pay an undisclosed settlement. And he was barred by the Bishop Timothy J. Harrington, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester, from any association with the House.

When dioceses around the country heard the accusations of financial corruption, they withdrew their support from the agency. Priests and nuns seeking treatment went elsewhere. Six months after Gilmartin's 1986 confrontation with Kane, only 12 of the more than 100 beds of the agency were filled, Gilmartin said.

Last December 31, the agency officially closed. Its buildings are on the market. Proceeds - expected in the millions of dollars - will be used to pay for treatment of clergy.

Gilmartin now works at Southdown, a mental health facility in Aurora, Ontario, 20 miles north of Toronto.

Before his experience at the House of Affirmation, Gilmartin believed the clergy were above wrongdoing. When he discovered that was not so, it didn't initially shake his faith in the church. He expected the problem could be resolved internally and that Kane would agree to step aside.

When Gilmartin was fired instead, that shook his faith.

"I've re-thought my whole relationship toward the church," he said. "I wouldn't enter a church in the Diocese of Worcester.

"I'd never give my absolute faith to anything again."

Gilmartin admitted he was naive.

"We were too noble about it. I thought there would be some integrity on their part. They had a legal and moral responsibility to do what was right."

Although Gilmartin believes he did the right thing, confronting Kane was "scary," he said.

"It's anxiety provoking. Psychologically, whenever you approach an authority figure, your whole history of dealing with authority figures comes in."

Gilmartin expected the church to clean house. But a year after Kane was barred from the House of Affirmation, he was endorsed by Bishop Harrington for the position of executive director of the National Guild of Catholic Psychiatrists. The bishop said Kane was a priest in good standing with the diocese.

Those actions upset Gilmartin and taught him a lesson.

"If I had it to do over," he said, "I would have taken it right to the attorney general. I didn't recommend that then because I was trying to be nice. I thought I could get the House cleaned up without doing that. It was doing good work."

Unlike Gilmartin, Patton entered his fight with CMHC with experience in confrontation: He had participated in the anti-war movement. And he and his wife were involved in protests that followed the accident at the Three-Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, PA. At the time, they lived several miles from the plant.

Patton, 39, had seen people lie before.

"There were people there who said it didn't happen," he said. "If you live near the plant and your wife is a couple months pregnant, you're concerned."

Yet when he was fired from CMHC, Patton was surprised.

"It seemed to come out of the blue. In retrospect, it shouldn't have. ... (But) after I laid down the numbers, I thought everyone would respect my honesty and at least take a look."

At the time, Patton's wife, Suzanne, worked part time. He had two children and a big mortgage. He knew there was not another agency like CMHC anywhere in the area. If he wanted to stay in the field, the family would have to move. And he and his wife didn't want to do that.

"My son was in the third grade. He was in his fourth school. We felt stability was important."

He felt guilty about the effect of his actions on his family. But he felt he had no choice.

"I don't think I was a saint or a martyr," said Patton, now a self-employed health benefits consultant.

"There was just a set of circumstances and chance put me in the center of them. I just responded naturally ... (CMHC's actions) just didn't make business sense. Morality didn't come into it.

"A lot of people could have done what I did," he added. "I'm not sure a lot of people would have. It's easier to go along. I hear people complain all the time about things they find personally upsetting. That's what they do - complain. To do more takes a commitment of time. And sometimes, that's enough to keep them from doing anything."

Bourgeois, Patton's lawyer, said employees speak out more frequently than might be expected - and often are fired as a result. Most often, the wrongdoing involves safety violations - such as removing safety devices to speed up machines - or "cooking the books so they can get money from the bank," he said.

Unlike the cases involving Gilmartin and Patton, these cases rarely become public. They're usually settled out of court. The employee rarely returns to his old job and often has a hard time getting the next one. "People are a little scared of these people. (Whistle blowers) don't seem to have anything in common in their families, religion, geography or background," Bourgeois said. "They're quiet, decent unremarkable people."

But they do all seem to have a broader sense of loyalty than other people.

Their loyalty is to their company, their industry or sometimes society as a whole - not a particular supervisor. "They'll say, "I spent my whole career in this industry and this is not how we do things,' " Bourgeois said.

"... if someone says to them, "You're not being a team player,' they'll say "I'm just playing on a bigger team.' " That defines Gilmartin's thinking on the House of Affirmation.

"As painful as it was - and the scars are really deep - it was the finest thing I did in my life," he said. "If you see injustice and you don't attend to it, how could you be angry at the bigger injustices - like Americans in Vietnam - if you don't attend to the injustice in your own back yard."

 
 

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