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Latest News - September 2011

September 25, 2011
Patient dies under care of fill-in nurse in Oakland
Source: SFGate; San Francisco Chronicle
By: Will Kane,John Wildermuth, Chronicle Staff Writers

A female patient at an Oakland hospital died early Saturday due to what the hospital described as a "medical error" made while she was under the care of a replacement nurse hired during a labor dispute.

The nurse allegedly gave the woman a fatal dose of medication, said Cynthia Perkins, a spokeswoman for the Oakland Police Department. The nurse, who was not identified, was taken in for questioning by officers.

Police and state medical officials are investigating the death at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, which occurred while most of the hospital's regular nursing staff was locked out after a one-day strike Thursday.

The investigations, as well as an internal inquiry, are standard procedure in an incident of this kind, said Carolyn Kemp, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

In a memo to the hospital staff Saturday, hospital CEO David Bradley admitted that a medical error was responsible for the death at the Summit campus in Oakland.

"This is a tragic event, and we have expressed our sorrow and sympathy to the patient's family," he said.

Kemp said privacy laws prevented the hospital from releasing the identity of the victim or any details about the error.

Union officials were outraged.

"An incident like this is chilling and strikes right to our nurses' concern about their ability to advocate for their patients," said Rose Ann Demoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association-National Nurses United, which represents about 2,000 nurses at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. "It was irresponsible to lock out those nurses."

As many as 23,000 nurses at 34 hospitals in Northern and Central California walked off the job Thursday in a one-day job action. The strike was in sympathy for mental health workers at Kaiser Permanente, who are involved in a contract dispute. The nurses at the Sutter Health centers also are involved in an ongoing contract battle over proposed changes in benefits, as well as patient staffing issues.

Sutter Health, the company that operates the medical center in Oakland, hired replacement nurses on five-day contracts and hospital officials said the nurses who went out on the one-day strike Thursday would be locked out until the temporary contracts expire Tuesday.

"Once a strike is called, it would be financially irresponsible for hospitals to pay double to compensate both permanent staff and replacement workers," Sutter Health said in a statement last week.

Demoro argued that the replacement nurses have less experience and less familiarity with the hospitals than the regular staff nurses.

Kemp said there was no reason to believe the contract nurses were any less qualified than the staff nurses. She said they maintain all the appropriate certifications and have adequate work experience. Many travel the country working in hospitals with labor disputes or temporary nursing shortages.

"I kind of refer to them as fire jumpers," Kemp said, referring to firefighters who parachute into wildfire emergencies across the county.

Union officials said they filed a complaint Friday with the state Department of Public Health, charging that a number of the replacement nurses lacked the proper certification for the jobs they were doing.

State health officials were unavailable for comment Saturday night.

Kemp said that unfortunately medical errors sometimes just happen, no matter who is working.

"Sadly we are a human industry, we are happily a human industry," she said. "Errors like this unfortunately happen in this world."

 

 


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