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Prosecution of Nurse Prompts Discussion of Medicine Safety

After an elderly patient died while under medical care in Tennessee, the district attorney decided to charge the nurse who was caring for the patients at the time of their death. The charges have many discussing whether prosecuting the nurse is the best way to improve medical protocols and make medicine safer.

NPR reports that the incident occurred when the patient was an imaging scan and the nurse gave her what was supposed to be an anti-anxiety medication to calm her down. The patient was instead given a paralytic drug that had the same first letters as the other medication. It is alleged that the nurse removed the wrong medication from the dispensing cabinet, and the charges came because she overrode the safety mechanism built into the machine to administer the dose anyway.

The British Medical Journal reports that medication errors may be the third leading cause of death in the country, so it is no surprise that the arrest of the nurse would spark a discussion on whether the hospital or the nurse is responsible for the patient’s death. While the nurse’s license was not revoked, she is now facing charges of abuse and reckless homicide for her mistake. A criminal conviction could result not only in the loss of her job but jail time that affects her entire future.

Nurses are encouraged to report and discuss errors in a transparent way, and many are concerned these charges could make them less likely to talk openly about mistakes. The nurse also lost her job after the incident.