Most of us have either heard or read about the Vanderbilt Nurse who was charged with homicide in the death of her patient from an accidental overdose in 2017. True, there were factors in this case that should not have happened, i.e., why was Vercuronium available in a radiology area, and for that matter, why was it allowed to be overridden in the medication dispensing cabinet? However, I or you weren’t walking in her shoes, and this is not up to us to draw up any conclusions, it is now in the hands of the Tennessee court system to make that conclusion.
This case has rattled us as a profession. It should wake everyone up, from the top administrators to the nurse at the bedside. Will this case set a precedent for other accidental deaths in hospitals or those patients in our care? Nurses and healthcare providers have patient safety as a number one goal. We do the best we can with the resources we are given or are provided, yet, we are humans, and humans make mistakes. Unfortunately, the patient paid the ultimate price with his life from a mistake, and a nurse also has had her life and career ultimately changed and damaged.
Who is to blame? The nurse, the institution? The doctor? The justice system? Everyone? I was reading an article by Dr. Phillip Boysen on “Just Culture”. In his article Dr. Boysen states “Punishing people without changing the system only perpetuates the problem rather than solving it”(Boysen, 2013).
Are we at risk for being arrested as criminals when a patient receives pain medicine on a long term basis, becomes addicted, then files a lawsuit against the facility, physician and or the nurse for giving the pain medicine in the first place. Yes, I know, this is not the same as a patient death, but you get the idea. Will the authorities go around arresting medical and nursing personnel for “reckless endangerment”, of contributing to a patient’s addiction to pain medications?
I believe there are more questions than answers in this case. This has shaken the core of nurses and nursing all around the U.S. Most nurses I have spoken to, and about this unfortunate case are sympathetic with the nurse. A few are not. I believe it is not our job to judge, our job is to make our profession a better, safer place for all.
Angela Archer has been a nurse for over 28 years and graduated in 1990 from TJC, now known as TCC in Tulsa Oklahoma. She has worked in the Medical-Surgical Float Pool at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa recently returning to school and fulfilling her goal of completing a BSN. She is also planning to continue her education in a Master’s program in Nursing Informatics.
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