The woman hired as spokesperson to represent Twin Cities hospitals in their current contract talks with nurses has been fired after a published report linked her to theft at a South Dakota hospital where she once worked.
Trish Dougherty said Thursday that she is no longer representing the group of 14 hospitals. She said attorneys would not let her comment further.
The Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) on Thursday posted a news story from Keloland Television from January 30, 2006 saying that Dougherty had pleaded guilty to taking $15,000 from Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls. The story said she served unsupervised probation and performed community service.
In an e-mail earlier Thursday, Dougherty said the episode was "a regrettable mistake during a difficult time.''
Dougherty, a nurse and now a consultant, was director of human resources for Avera McKennan Hospital when she allegedly took the money in October 2002, supposedly to help a new employee pay off a student loan. Instead, the report said, she spent it on landscaping for her home.
Nurses and the Twin Cities hospitals are currently locked in the most contentious contract negotiations in a quarter century.
In the last few weeks, Dougherty has been the public face for 14 metro hospitals negotiating a new three-year contract with 12,000 nurses. The hospitals are part of Allina, Fairview, HealthEast, North Memorial, Park Nicollet and Children's Hospitals and Clinics.
The hospitals apparently did not know about Dougherty's past.
"We have just learned about the legal issues related to Trish Dougherty," the hospitals said in a joint statement. "As someone who had been involved with the health care industry for many years, Dougherty was brought on to assist the hospitals with communications because of her familiarity with and expertise in the area. Throughout this process, we have made every effort to be respectful of the nurses and the community and this development falls short of the level of integrity the community has a right to expect. It falls short of our expectations for ourselves. Trish Dougherty is no longer serving in any role with the Twin Cities hospitals group."
The statement was sent by Anna Youngerman of Himle Horner, Inc., a Minneapolis public relations and crisis management firm.
The MNA said one of their members had done a simple Google search and come across the new story.
"We find it beyond ironic that the one person the Twin Cities hospitals have chosen to continually preach a message of financial stewardship and responsibility is actually a felon convicted of stealing money from a hospital," said John Nemo, a spokesman for MNA. "These negotiations are all about trust. Communicating with the public is all about trust."
Chen May Yee • 612-673-7434