As many of you may have read recently, a nurse was found guilty of criminal negligence in Tennessee. This verdict was a result of a criminal proceeding against a nurse who committed a medical error resulting in the death of a patient.
While the error cannot be excused, it is unfortunate that such a mistake was deemed criminal in nature. This is not what our system needs at this time.
The AARC believes the impact of this case will have a chilling effect on all health care professionals, such as doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and other professionals, as they work to improve systems and practices. This improvement comes by reporting errors, as we are encouraged and ethically obligated to do.
The Tennessee Licensure Board had already taken appropriate action to safeguard the public and discipline the nurse by revoking her license.
No more is needed, if we hold to the opinion of the Institute of Medicine’s report, “To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System”, (IOM 2000).
The AARC supports the contention that medical errors remain a challenge, but are not criminal. This decision will discourage health care professionals from reporting mistakes, given the additional risk of criminal proceedings. We believe the best way to address errors is to first have them reported.
The AARC is concerned that this decision will work against patient safety in the long run, since many more errors will go unreported due to fear that health care professionals may be criminally prosecuted for a clinical mistake. Moreover, at a time when our health care workforce, especially respiratory therapists, have been on the front lines of the pandemic, the last thing we need is such an action that works against our efforts to improve safety and increase the quality of respiratory care by identifying areas that need improvement.
These proceedings were unnecessary.
Sheri Tooley, BSRT, RRT-NPS, CPFT, AE-C, FAARC
AARC President & CEO
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