Last week there was a criminal decision that has sent shockwaves throughout the nursing industry. RaDonda Vaught in Tennessee was convicted of negligent homicide along with one other charge. And now, as someone who represents nurses, I can tell you that the industry is certainly concerned about the kind of repercussions of that moving forward, and whether other states will start doing the same thing. I don’t want to get into details about the Vaught case necessarily. What I want to do is give some tips to nurses on how to handle an issue like this at the employment level. And then maybe later talk a little bit about the board as well. We all know errors occur in nursing. It’s just a fact.
And if anyone works in a hospital, they have absolutely been around a situation like Ms. Vaught. In that case, she simply gave the wrong medication, which ended up in the untimely death of the patient. If you work in a hospital, you’ve been around this before. Now, what are some tips on how to handle a situation if you commit an error like that? Let’s kind of go through that. What generally happens is, if a nurse provides the patient the wrong medication, someone is going to find out about it, or with the nurse as well, will at some point recognize their mistakes. Sometimes, they don’t. And then what will happen is an investigation will begin with the employer. And so, the employer is going to pull the medical records. They’re going to ask the nurse verbally what happened, they’re going to talk to witnesses.
And at that stage, there’s not much a nurse can do beyond just letting them know what happened. And certainly, if there is an error that could then be reversed in some way, and the patient can be saved, then obviously, the nurse must come forward and admit to the error. Now, what the nurse doesn’t have to do is the important part of this blog. What will ultimately happen is during the investigation, the administration will do one of two things: they’ll either put the nurse on administrative leave while they’re doing an investigation, or they’ll continue to allow the nurse to work, and then at some point, will bring them in for, I guess you could call it a formal meeting. Other blogs of interest include:
- Which is the Most Frequent Reason for Revocation of a Nurse’s License?
- Most Common Reasons for Board of Nursing Discipline
If you are put on administrative leave by the hospital, 9 times out of 10, they’re going to fire you. So, there is really no benefit to the nurse from participating in anything else. Let’s say they put the nurse on leave and then two weeks have gone by. What they’re going to do is to call the nurse back and say, hey, we’d like to talk about the situation, kind of be casual about it. And then the nurse will come in and then they’ll be ambushed by HR, risk management, the BON, the manager, or whoever and go into detail about the situation. And it will likely feel like an interrogation as the nurse. But in that scenario, I would suggest not going back. If you’re on admin leave and they call you in, they’re calling you in to likely fire you.
And there is no benefit to the nurse from putting down anything beyond what happened directly with whatever the error occurred. They’ll also generally ask the nurse a written statement going through what happened in their own words. Absolutely, do not write that written statement. You are not required to write any statements. You’re not required to say anything to the employer. Only bad things can come from that. And how they normally would do this is they’ll ask the nurse to come in and they’ll say, let’s talk about the situation. And they’ll say, oh, can you put this down in writing? And then once they have all of that, then they’ll say, oh, by the way, we’re firing you. So, just don’t participate in the process. If you’re a hundred percent sure that you made an error and it led to some kind of a very bad negative outcome, and they put you on leave, they are very likely going to fire you.
Now, I know nurses. They want to keep their jobs or advocate for their positions or talk their way out of it. None of that matters. The employer doesn’t care. From the employer’s perspective, they’re trying to defend themselves, and throwing a nurse under the bus. They don’t care. The difference between airing on the side of getting rid of a nurse versus keeping them around, even after an error, they’re always going to get rid of the nurse. Just think about it this way, let’s say a nurse makes an error, then the patient ultimately dies. The patient sues the employer. Well, how’s it going to look from the employer’s side if they knew of an error that led to the patient’s death and then continued to employ that same nurse without any negative repercussions moving forward. It’s very unlikely to happen.
As far as the employment process goes, obviously, do absolutely everything you can to save the patient if it’s a reversible error. But if you are called in for a formal interview, I would decline. If you’re put on admin leave, I would wait until they decide to call you back. And then ultimately you should just resign. I mean, that’s the smartest way of handling the situation. One more thing, if you wait until they terminate you on any future employment applications, they’re going to ask reasons for leaving a job. And instead of being able to say, you resigned, it’s going to say, I was terminated. And the same goes for the board. I’ve had nurses who get in trouble when they have fudged their reasons for leaving a job. And then the board will find the applications for their new jobs.
And they’ll see that the nurse lied about why they ended their old job. And then they used that to discipline the nurse. So, those are my thoughts on how to handle a negative error at the employment level.
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