Fayette Dennis was recovering from a knee-replacement operation at St. Tammany Parish Hospital, her employer of nearly 40 years, when she heard some startling news: Richard Reed, brother of longtime St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed, was handling her duties as mailroom clerk.
“Another employee asked me, ‘Did you know they have Richard Reed in the mailroom?’ That was not who I trained to take my place. He’d never been in the mailroom before,’’ she said.
A perplexed Dennis asked her supervisor what was going on, but the woman said she couldn’t comment on another employee’s work assignment.
Reed, who first went to work for the hospital in 2002, continued to fill Dennis’ duties in the mailroom throughout her medical leave in early 2014, she said. Dennis retired in May at 62 because she said she could no longer physically handle the work.
The mailroom is the only thing the two hospital employees had in common, it appears.
Dennis was paid $12.50 an hour, she said. But Reed’s hourly rate was $18 an hour, according to information provided by the hospital.
Further, Dennis, who had been a full-time employee since she started working for the hospital in 1974, had her job cut in 2011 from 40 hours per week to 20 — ostensibly because a new program purchased by the hospital had eliminated some of her workload, which included making copies. She also lost some benefits, she said, including her disability insurance and health care coverage for her disabled husband and her mentally challenged child.
But Reed worked full time for all 12 years he was with the hospital, according to information provided by the hospital to The New Orleans Advocate in response to a public-records request.
Dennis claims that Reed was given job duties in other departments along with the mailroom work to ensure that he had 40 hours. “They never offered that to me,’’ she said. “With 39 years, I would have thought they’d have made that arrangement.’’
“I think it was politics, really,’’ she said of the different treatments allegedly accorded to her and to Reed.
Reed resigned from the hospital effective June 27, shortly after Walter Reed gave up his $30,000-a-year job providing legal counsel to the hospital’s board. Walter Reed claimed that his work for the hospital was as a private lawyer, but Patti Ellish, the hospital administrator, said the arrangement was with the District Attorney’s Office. She pointed out that Reed would send an assistant district attorney, Leo Hemelt, to board meetings when he could not attend. Hemelt has been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury, which is investigating Reed.
Reed announced last week that he is not seeking a sixth term, citing the disruption that news coverage of him has caused his office. He also lashed out at what he called “abhorrent” attacks on his brother by “an obsessed media.”
In a statement Tuesday, he said he was “not aware of any controversy regarding (Richard Reed’s) work and certainly did not attempt to influence any personnel decisions by the hospital ... despite media attempts to insinuate otherwise.” He said his brother “deserves better from the media than being singled out for merely being my brother.”
In one exchange, Vice President Jean Holtman said the hospital should replace Reed with a full-time employee, even though a half-time worker would be sufficient to cover the workload.
When Chief Financial Officer Tim Lessing asked her why, Holtman said it would persuade the public that “Richard’s position was needed.’’
“I’m concerned that it is more obvious that STPH made a position for Richard,’’ Holtman wrote. “This may not be the best light for our hospital to be seen in.’’
Holtman also described Reed’s hourly pay rate as “high due to his transfer from another position.’’
Hospital spokeswoman Melissa Hodgson confirmed that Richard Reed was “temporarily assigned’’ to replace Dennis while she was on medical leave.
According to information provided by the hospital, Richard Reed was first hired as a community bereavement coordinator on Sept. 9, 2002. On June 16, 2013, he became an office clerk in what was described by the hospital as a “job change.’’ Another change, to mailroom clerk, was listed as a “transfer’’ on Dec. 30, 2013 — the day of Dennis’ surgery. He was transferred again on Feb. 9, 2014, to “office clerk.’’
“I really feel like I’ve been discriminated against, if you want to know the truth,’’ said Dennis, who also had run-ins with the hospital over the treatment her husband, Mitchell, received there for his back problems.
Dennis said that emergency room physicians seemed to think he was a drug addict and would tell him the hospital was not a pain management clinic. At one point in 2011, the hospital filed paperwork denying her and her family access to Mitchell Dennis’ room, leading them to file a complaint with the state Department of Health and Hospitals.
Dennis said she thought the decision to cut her hours was in part retaliation for her complaints about that situation.
Dennis said she’s sad that her job at the hospital is over, ending with a retirement party and two gift certificates to Wal-Mart, one for $400 and another for $135.
She was the breadwinner for her family for many years, and she described herself as a good employee who gave her all, despite family illnesses and health issues of her own that sometimes forced her to miss work.
“I had to do what had to be done,’’ she said.
Staff writer Faimon A. Roberts III contributed to this article. Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.