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 user 2003-11-20 at 11:43:00 am Views: 102
  • #7911

    Former IBM Nurse Testifies Co. Feared ‘Mass Hysteria’
    SANTA CLARA, Calif — A former International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM News) nurse testified Wednesday that the company kept medical records with signs of chemical exposure from Silicon Valley workers to prevent “mass hysteria” and manufacturing lines from shutting down.

    The fear was so great it spawned an unwritten policy to find alternate ” lifestyle” causes for symptoms that employees might have developed from exposure to chemicals such as acetone, isopropyl alcohol and Freon, said nurse Audrey Misako Crouch.

    Ms. Crouch said that during her six years — from 1977 to 1983 — of working at a clinic in IBM’s disk-drive and circuit-board manufacturing plant, she would see 40 to 60 people in a four-hour shift for ailments as varied as a cut and a sore throat to signs of chemical exposure such as lightheadedness, dizziness and headaches.

    When employees were given medical records, the documents were handed over in sealed envelopes to be delivered unopened to a manager, Ms. Crouch testified. IBM “didn’t want the employee to share this information with other employees,” she said. “It was to stop mass hysteria. That was the coined term that I remember.”

    Ms. Crouch took the stand Wednesday as the fourth witness in a high-profile liability case where two former IBM employees — Alida Hernandez and James Moore — seek damages for cancers they claim came from long-term chemical exposure at their jobs. The company faces another 257 suits, the first of which will go to trial in March. Verdicts in the two Silicon Valley cases could provide a sign of how juries will view the future claims.

    IBM has maintained through the trial that its workplace is safe and its clinics provide high-quality medical care. It also denies it kept information from employees that might have indicated chemical exposure.

    Outside of court, IBM attorney Robert Weber said there was “not one shred of validity to the statements made about the IBM medical department.” IBM will cross examine Ms. Crouch on Thursday.

    On Wednesday, however, Ms. Crouch’s startling testimony held the jury’s close attention. She said that while working at the medical clinic she commonly saw patients with a runny nose or nasal discharge, a sign of overexposure to isopropyl alcohol. Instead of inquiring about an employee’s use of chemicals, nurses were instructed to probe for other causes of the affliction, such as hay fever, she said.

    The policy was to “look for anything else but what they worked with” and ask ” everything but … what types of chemicals they had,” Ms. Crouch said. “They did not want to have any type of workers’ compensation illness.”

    Nasal conditions were always listed in medical reports as having nonwork causes, she testified.

    If a patient had an abnormal liver-test result that could have come from working with chemicals, “we were told to ask about alternative lifestyles,” she said. “How much alcohol did you drink? Did you have a diet high in fat? Those were the kinds of questions you were to ask the employee.”

    On several occasions, Ms. Crouch testified, she was reprimanded by her supervisor for wanting to send an employee home after detecting what she believed were signs of chemical exposure. The workers were returned to the production line, she said.

    “Our job was to keep the employee healthy and send them back to the line,” she testified.