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Alta Bates Summit, Nurses' Union Dispute Responsibility for Patient's Death after Replacement Administers Wrong Medication

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Tuesday September 27, 2011 - 07:35:00 AM

Hospital officials and union leaders traded blame yesterday for the death of a patient at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland early Saturday due to a medical error by a replacement nurse. 

Oakland police, who haven't yet released the patient's name, said they went to the hospital at 4:05 a.m. Saturday to investigate a reported patient death. 

They said a preliminary investigation revealed the victim had been given a lethal dosage of non-prescribed medication, police said. 

The patient who died had been receiving treatment at the hospital since July, police said. 

Martha Kuhl, a registered nurse at Children's Hospital Oakland who is on the board of directors for the California Nurses Association, said yesterday that that Alta Bates Summit administrators had barred regularly-employed nurses from returning to work Friday after a one-day strike by 23,000 nurses at Sutter, Kaiser Permanente and Children's hospitals on Thursday. 

Children's Hospital also locked out nurses who tried to return to work on Friday but Kaiser allowed 17,000 regular nurses to come back to their jobs on Friday she said. 

The lockouts at Alta Bates Summit and Children's Hospital are expected to end on Tuesday morning, Kuhl said. 

Kuhl said the union is calling on the California Department of Public Health to carefully examine conditions in Sutter hospitals that have locked out RNs. 

Kuhl said the Nurses Association asked the Department of Public Health on Friday, the day before the patient died, to conduct a formal investigation in response to reports that replacement nurses used during the lockout lacked the appropriate clinical competencies and certifications necessary for safe patient care. 

But Alta Bates spokeswoman Carolyn Kemp said the patient's death "was a tragic accident" and "it's unfortunate and sad that the union would exploit the tragic death of a patient to further its own bargaining purposes." 

Kemp said the replacement nurses at the hospital "are registered, highly trained and qualified, and they undergo extensive screening and orientation before they come to work here or at any hospital." 

Kemp added, "We use the same process and rigorous criteria for the large complement of nurses required by the strike that we use for day-to-day replacement of our own nurses." 

C. Duane Dauner, the president and chief executive of the California Hospital Association, which represents hospital operators and health care systems, said, "It is inappropriate and irresponsible for the California Nurses Association to exploit this tragedy to further their union agenda." 

Dauner said, "This is the same union that has taken nurses away from patient bedsides more than 100 times during the past three years." 

He said, "When the nurses union calls a strike, hospitals cannot simply send their patients home and close the doors" because patients need care around the clock every day. 

Dauner said, "The only option is for hospitals to hire temporary replacement nurses." 

He asked, "If the union believes the use of licensed replacement nurses is a threat to public safety, why have they chosen to pursue a pattern of waging strikes on a routine basis?"