We often write about cases in which doctors, nurses and hospitals are found negligent in failing to provide adequate medical care to a patient. In some cases, however, mistakes that occur in a hospital setting that pose a threat to patient safety have nothing to do with an actual medical procedure.
On Sep. 21 of last year, a 57-year-old woman who was a patient at a hospital went missing. It was not until 17 days later that the woman’s body was found in a rarely used hospital stairwell. An investigation into the woman’s death has revealed that a nurse’s failure to pass along key information resulted in the woman being allowed to wander from her room and enter the stairwell.
According to a report by investigators from the state’s public health department, hospital employees were instructed to never leave the woman unattended. The orders were issued by an attending physician after the 57-year-old, who was suffering from multiple health problems that left her disoriented and confused, had wandered from her room to a nursing station.
The doctor gave a nurse the verbal order that the woman was to be attended to at all times by a patient care technician or “coach or sitter”. However, the nurse to whom the order had been given failed to enter in the critical information. As a result, when a shift change occurred the information was not passed along to the next shift of employees.
After the woman’s disappearance, a hospital report stated medical personnel were instructed to check on the 57-year-old every 15 minutes. Inspectors found, however, that the woman had been left unattended for 40 minutes prior to her disappearance. She was subsequently found dead 17 days later in a locked stairwell a mere 99 yards away from her hospital room.
At this time, the woman’s family has not filed any lawsuits. However, given the facts and circumstances surrounding the woman’s death it’s likely legal action will be taken. In cases where a nurse’s negligence results in a patient falling or wandering, a medical malpractice lawsuit may be appropriate.
Source: Quincy Herald-Whig, “Report: Orders to watch patient not recorded,” Feb. 2, 2014