Legal Nurse Consulting News: One Large Pothole Patched - Another Looms
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
By Barbara King
By no means has the story of the Wisconsin nurse who made a tragic medication error come to an end. The healing for both the nurse and the family who lost their loved one has only just begun. The future is never certain, but there is hope that the families find a way to come to terms with what has occurred and go on to somehow make the system better for those that follow.
The Wisconsin State Board of Nursing revoked the nurse’s license to practice for nine months. Should she return to nursing, her practice hours would be limited and her service scrutinized. Additionally, the nursing board’s sanctions included a requirement for the nurse to make three presentations to nursing groups on the importance of preventing medication and health care errors. The nurse did not admit or deny the allegations and the board’s order will not be affected by the outcome of the criminal case.
In the case of the “dangerous precedence” that was so feared—the felony charge of neglect of a patient causing great bodily harm—it was dropped. The nurse plead no contest to two misdemeanor charges of obtaining and dispensing a prescription drug without a prescription; carrying a sentence of 3 years probation. This may have been the best outcome in this case. However, a nurse’s unintentional medication error, no matter how grievous the result, being adjudicated in a criminal court continues to be of concern to the future of healthcare practice. The nursing board has sanctioned the nurse within their standards of practice. If the medication administered was in error, then obviously, it was not the medication ordered. This is fact, but was it criminal?
Nurses will continue to strive for the best possible outcome. As we remember to “do no harm”, let us carry this precedence setting case forward to influence future practice outcomes. There is presently a push by nursing advocates to limit the hours a nurse can work, as Wisconsin and many other states have no mandates. This is a good place to begin. It is usually the system or process that allows an individual to err. Nurses must continue to report errors, research causation, enact corrective actions and evaluate system changes without the fear of unintentional errors being part of a permanent criminal record. Healthcare workers must rise to the defense of nursing practice. Each nurse must preserve the future of nursing and continue to strive for perfection, often under adverse situations, and not be in fear of criminal prosecution for an unintentional error.
1. (2006) Board suspends nurse charged in patient death for 9 months Lacrosse Tribune. Retrieved January 22, 2007 from the World Wide Web: http://www.lacrossetribune.com/articles/2006/12/15/WI/02wisnurse15.txt.
2. Treleven, Ed (2006) “I’d give my life to Bring her Back” Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved January 22, 2007 from the Work Wide Web: http://www.madison.com/archives/read.php?ref=/wsj/2006/12/16/0612150434.