Venice Jean-Baptist, a South Florida nurse, exclusively told NBC 6 she couldn’t believe it when the doctor who was her boss was coughing at the office, and when she expressed concern about catching COVID-19, she says he dismissed her fears.
“He said you’re overreacting, and he walked by me in the hallway and he breathed on me. He said if I have the virus, now you have it too,” Jean-Baptist said.
Jean-Baptist says the exchange with Dr. Joseph Piperato took place inside the Project Access Foundation clinic on Biscayne and 80th Street – where they worked together.
She says the doctor had gone to the popular Winter Party and returned to the office coughing, which concerned her.
Jean-Baptist says, soon after, she was in Aventura Hospital on oxygen.
“I couldn’t breathe and that’s when they ended up telling me at the hospital, I had COVID-19. I literally just broke down in tears because my lungs were covered with the virus,” she said.
Medical records provided by her attorney, John Leighton, show she tested positive for the virus at the end of March.
Jean-Baptist told NBC 6 that her two-year-old son ended up getting the virus from her.
“I think this could have been prevented. I know that the clinic is responsible,” she said. “He didn’t want anyone to get tested of fear of losing money if the clinic shut down. So, they didn’t want to lose revenue,” she said.
The nurse, who is now on disability, says she was seeing a variety of patients back in February and March. She says she was worried about patients contracting the virus because she says they weren’t required to wear masks inside the facility.
“There was nothing in place to protect the staff,” she added.
Jean-Baptist filed a lawsuit this week against Dr. Piperato and the Project Access Foundation, which is part of the Larkin Hospital system.
In the lawsuit, Jean-Baptist alleges she told Piperato she had asthma and he needed to make immediate changes in early March.
“I stated to him, we really need to allow the staff to wear masks and he said the staff did not need to wear masks. He said only the patients if they have symptoms. If they didn’t have symptoms, they didn’t wear masks and I remember at that meeting, I said, ‘no, the CDC states that many people don’t have symptoms,’” she said.
“This was purely profits over people,” her attorney John Leighton told us.
He says of all businesses, the clinic had the professional training to know better.
“It was irresponsible. It was dangerous. It was wrong,” Leighton said. “We have an instruction that not only discouraged employees from wearing PPE, they actually prohibited them from doing that and using COVID test kits.”
Julie Allison, the attorney representing Project Access, Dr. Piperato, and the other defendants in the suit, sent us a statement saying: “The allegations of the complaint are unfounded and will be aggressively defended. Project Access has at all times undertaken the steps necessary to comply with CDC and State guidelines to protect the public and its patients during the COVID pandemic and will continue to strive to protect and serve its local community.”
Jean Baptist says she’s still suffering from her bout with the coronavirus, adding her lawsuit seeks damages for what she’s been through and to punish the clinic, so it prevents exposing others to the virus.
When NBC 6 visited the clinic Thursday, we saw all the employees wearing masks inside, a Plexiglas shield up, and social distancing markings on the floor.