Medical Malpractice or Homicide
By Frank Bonet
By now most of you will have read, or heard, of a former Tennessee nurse being found guilty of homicide in medication error death. I have an issue with this. First, this could not have come at a worse time in US history, and second, this incident should have never been heard in a criminal court of law.
Here are my concerns. I had a 16-day stay in the hospital (non-COVID related) and was cared for by some of the best caretakers at Lawrence General Hospital. The nurses and nurse assistants were professional, understanding, and compassionate. The therapist, surgeons, and doctors (including military personnel) made it their responsibility to inquire and provide medical services. Many of these medical professionals were from our community and some were traveling nurses and therapists from other states hired to work in LGH. I got to know many people and they got to know me. So, I may be a little bit biased in this story, but I genuinely believe in what I am writing and feeling.
In the last few years, COVID has wreaked havoc on the international community and has placed huge stresses on much medical personnel, so much that many medical professionals retired or resigned due to work fatigue. It does not help that many people decided not to follow the advice of medical professionals (because of politics) and ended up in hospitals, taking necessary beds and ICU for other non-COVID related emergencies. Even today, the emergency room is so packed that my bed was in the hallway of the ER. While many of us thanked our medical professionals, others went directly after medical professionals in a way to punishing way.
When medical malpractice occurs, an investigation is launched to determine if the incident was non-criminal or criminal. It is usually an administrative issue. The Tennessee indictment was in essence an attack against the nursing profession and/or the medical community, although their district attorney may say differently. The Tennessee incident was not about a rouge nurse killing patients like William Davis of Texas, or like a former nursing assistant who killed seven elderly veterans with fatal injections at a West Virginia hospital. The Tennessee incident was a one-time medical error – the nurse injected the patient with the wrong prescription drug. It was not done intentionally or with malice. The nurse was honest, truthful, and even indicated that she made a mistake. The family of the victim declined to press charges, but the district attorney’s office decided to file charges.
While some have stated that the hospital wanted to use the nurse as a scapegoat, others have indicated that the hospital failed the nurse. There were no processes in place to check and verify. I have read and was following the case as I was in the hospital bed and was sad to hear the verdict. I was sad for the professionals that were taking care of me and scared for the future of the medical professionals. Because usually cases such as these as dealt with in a civil court and with the insurance company paying the families of the deceased.
The American Nurses Union issued a statement that said that nurses are “already exhausted and overwhelmed” and that criminalizing medical mistakes could “have a chilling effect on reporting and process improvement.
As an HR professional, I have known that nurses have been hard sought to fill positions, in Massachusetts for the last 6 years. Nurses have been understrength more so in the last two and one have years due to COVID.
Not only will this case make nurses leave the profession, but the outcome of this case will add to the already burden of not having enough nurses in the medical community, because young people may not want to enter the profession.
Frank Bonet-Rosado is a former LPS Committee Member, former Massachusetts Department of Education Technology/Engineering Committee Member, Former St. Mary’s Elementary School Committee Member, former Board Member of the Lawrence Charter Development School, Lawrence, Ma. He is also a retired US Army Veteran, the first Latino Director appointed in Lawrence, and former Director of Personnel in Lawrence. He is currently the Chief of Staff for the City of Lawrence. Frank was also a candidate for State Representative and City Councilor at-Large and serves as Vice-Chair of the MVRTA and a member of the MBTA.
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