By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

Throughout May, the healthcare industry will celebrate National Nurses Month. This year’s celebration takes place during a critical, tumultuous time for the profession.

Consider the case of a former nurse at Vanderbilt Medical Center who in March was convicted on charges of criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an impaired adult. In 2017, a patient was prescribed Versed before undergoing an imaging procedure. However, a nurse accidentally administered vecuronium, a paralytic agent. The patient died one day later.

Although the nurse immediately reported her error, the official cause of death reported to the medical examiner did not mention the error. Several months later, an anonymous source reported the medication error to officials, prompting CMS and criminal investigations. The nurse lost her license and was formally charged and convicted of a crime.  

As if dealing with a raging pandemic was not enough punishment, frontline caregivers now worry any mistake could land them in jail. In the June issue of ED Management, authors Dorothy Brooks and Stacey Kusterbeck report on this case, how the industry is reacting to the fallout, and how all medical providers can prepare themselves for the day they might have to face a jury to answer for a medical error.

While nurses and other clinicians try to avoid mistakes, they are doing so while facing a rising onslaught of patient misbehavior — from verbalized racism to dodging spit to fending off physical assaults. Healthcare providers are trying their best to prevent violence and de-escalate situations, but there is only so much they can do.

The Emergency Nurses Association recently joined the American College of Emergency Physicians to urge Congress to enact the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act. Passed in the house in 2021 and brought before the Senate this week, this legislation would direct OSHA to require employers to develop and implement workplace violence prevention plans focused on the safety of healthcare workers and patients.

“Our nurses, doctors, social services workers, and healthcare professionals deserve to work in a safe environment free from violence,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-WI, who is leading the Senate effort on this act. “Healthcare workers have faced unprecedented obstacles just to stay healthy and do their jobs through the pandemic, and on top of it all, they have seen senseless violence against them. It is unacceptable and we must provide basic protections and safety standards to a workforce that serves people during some of their most vulnerable times.”

Elsewhere, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to staffing shortages, which can stretch thin an already-exhausted nursing workforce — and lead to poor patient outcomes. Some EDs have turned to travel nurses to plug the gaps, but that carries certain risk implications.

Relias offers many resources for nurses eager to learn, everything from better ethics training to how to treat opioid use disorder to providing patients with the right information. Check out two episodes of the free “Rounds With Relias” podcast series: Reflections of a Nurse: What Made Me Stay or Leave? (Episode 4) and Nurses’ Social Media Missteps Can Harm Patients – and the Profession (Episode 16).

And don’t forget the newly revamped Nurse.com, loaded with more than 700 nationally accredited continuing education courses, news you can use, and tools for jobseekers.