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September 16, 2019Cart

Business

by Westchester County Business Journal
by WCBJ

Fired mental health director sues Concordia College for $1M over privacy violations

A mental health counselor at Concordia College-New York claims she was fired for accusing the wife of the college president of violating patient confidentiality rules.

Erika L. Rexhouse, the former director of the college wellness center, sued Concordia College, President John A. Nunes, his wife, Monique Nunes, and other college officials on March 25 in Westchester Supreme Court for $1 million.

She claims she was “fired and escorted off campus by college security less than three weeks after reporting a violation of privacy rights,” after Monique Nunes had “interjected herself in a situation involving a patient in crisis.”

A college spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on the allegations.

Concordia is a liberal arts college, with about 1,500 students, including 300 who live on the Bronxville campus. It is affiliated with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

John Nunes became the college president in 2016. A few months later, Rexhouse, a licensed clinical social worker, was hired to direct the Wellness Center.

Initially, according to the complaint, Rexhouse reported to the dean of students and the vice president for student development. Those positions were eliminated in 2017 and she reported to Monique Nunes, who had been named by her husband to a new position, senior director of student experience.

Monique Nunes has a master’s degree in human resources management, the complaint states, but has never been licensed in New York as a health care practitioner.

Rexhouse alleges that Nunes tried at least a half-dozen times to obtain or disclose confidential information about students seeking treatment at the wellness center, in violation of state law.

In October, Rexhouse filed a whistleblower complaint about one such incident, at the suggestion of the director of human resources.

In a November meeting with the Nuneses and other college officials, Monique insisted she was qualified to provide support for students, according to the complaint, and did not need a license for the work she was doing. She allegedly discussed incidents where students were suicidal or hospitalized and accused Rexhouse of providing too much information and risking her license.

The purpose of the meeting, Rexhouse claims, was to intimidate her for filing the whistleblower complaint.

In January, Rexhouse was summoned to a meeting to discuss the findings of the whistleblower inquiry. She said the report does not address the central allegation, that Monique Nunes had violated patient privacy rights, but Nunes would be trained on how to handle student mental health information.

Ten days later, a student disclosed during counseling that she had been sexually abused. She began screaming and crying and was taken to White Plains Hospital.

Monique Nunes, according to the complaint, arrived and questioned emergency medical technicians about the patient, entered the exam room and tried to speak to the patient. The patient then pushed Nunes out of the room.

The student met Rexhouse the next day. She was distressed, the complaint states, about Nunes knowing details of her case and thought she was in trouble for pushing her out of the hospital room.

On Feb.15, Monique Nunes resigned as senior director of student experience.

On Feb. 22, according to the complaint, Rexhouse was told that Concordia would no longer support mental health services on campus because of a financial restructuring. She was fired and escorted off campus by security.

She claims that Concordia continues to tout its Wellness Center, for accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Rexhouse accuses the college and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod of retaliation. She accuses the college, synod, Mr. and Mrs. Nunes and other college officials of intentional infliction of emotional distress, for which she is demanding $1 million.

Rexhouse is represented by attorney Robert B. Bernstein of Scarsdale.