• Darlene Nelson

Nurses Facing Jail Time For Being Caught in Unsafe Conditions

More and more nurses are facing jail time for making mistakes. All nurses make errors. Most nurses make errors or find themselves in situations where bad patient outcomes occur almost everyday. More often than not these outcomes were influenced by system errors and administrative decesions that placed patients in harms way. Conditions that nurses face are such as, critically low staffing, Physicians refusal to respond to nurses paging them or patients requiring a higher level of care, being admitted to units without the resources to meet the patients needs. These unsafe conditions place patients at risk and put the nurse's license on the line. Yet Boards of nursing refuse to consider such ever increasing conditions as mitigating circumstances.

Boards of nursing hear from nurses such reasons as above, that contributed to a bad outcome, more often than not when they allege a nurse violated the nurse practice act. These Boards of nursing know that nurses were placed in no win situations by hospital nursing administrators. When a Nurse Director goes home for the evening they know full well they are leaving their nurses understaffed. Chief Nursing Officers and Nurse Directors know that certain Physicians regularly refuse to answer nurses concerns about their patients. These Nurse Administrators are also accountable to the Practice Act and a duty to protect patients from harm. Yet they escape responsibility and being charged by their States Board of Nursing.

Boards of Nursing historically go after the staff nurse, ignoring root causes of the error. This needs to change. Nurse Administrators need to be rightfully held to the Nurse Practice Act to keep patients safe. If Nursing Administrators knew they could be charged by their licensing Board they might take corrective action to provide a culture of safety.

Now there is an increasing trend to charge nurses criminally for bad patient outcomes. Nurses face being sent to prison for a bad outcome when they were struggling to provide care under critically low staffing levels. Or when the nurse was assigned a patient she was not experienced to care for because the nurse was a med surg nurse and the patient belonged in the ICU. Yet because of short staffed ICUs and over crowded emergency rooms, criticality ill patients are ending up on med surg units.

Just as Boards of Nursing do not consider the decesions of Nurse Administrators as causative, neither do prosecuters. Again, corporate Nurse Administrators are escaping being held accountable. Nurses are speaking up about these conditions yet it is the staff nurse who continues to be nailed to the cross.

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