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A Nurse’s Legal Duty to Discern Potential Harm and Protect Patients

November 7, 2014
Illustration by Janet Hamlin for AJN.

Illustration by Janet Hamlin for AJN.

By Jacob Molyneux, AJN senior editor

The November installment of AJN’s Legal Clinic column by nurse and attorney Edie Brous, “Lessons Learned from Litigation: The Nurse’s Duty to Protect,” describes a case in which nurses were held responsible for not adequately protecting a sedated patient from a sexually predatory physician. The case description begins this way:

NX was a young woman who underwent a laser ablation of genital warts at Cabrini Medical Center in New York City. While still under the effects of general anesthesia, she was transferred to a small, four-bed section of the recovery room. Shortly after her admission to the recovery room, the nurses admitted another patient to a bed two feet away from NX. The curtains were not drawn and there were no patients in the other two beds.

A male surgical resident, Andrea Favara, entered the recovery room wearing Cabrini scrubs and Cabrini identification. Residents were not directly assigned to the recovery room and were seldom called there. The nurses knew all of NX’s physicians but did not know Favara; he wasn’t one of NX’s physicians . . .

The details that follow are disturbing. After describing the case and the failure of nurses to confront this unknown physician or actively monitor his interactions with the patient, Brous sketches the ensuing legal machinations, as well as the ultimate decision of an appeals court. Some of the main take-home points for nurses are as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

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Nurses, Brittany Maynard, Methods of Hastening Dying: No Easy Options

November 5, 2014

By Amanda Anderson, a critical care nurse and graduate student in New York City who is currently doing a graduate placement at AJN two days a week.

Last weekend, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard died, in her bed, in her bedroom, with her husband and immediate family beside her. I learned of her death on Twitter, along with millions of other readers. Several weeks earlier, Maynard had publicly announced, in a YouTube video, the way she planned to end her own life: using a lethal dose of medications prescribed to her for that purpose.

Maynard, while a compelling public advocate, is not the first to choose to die this way. Compassion and Choices, the organization that worked with Maynard to publicize her choice, lobbies for the drafting and passage of “death with dignity” laws, which currently exist in some form only in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, New Mexico, and Montana. Arizona.

In Oregon, where Maynard moved in order to be able to legally end her life before she was incapacitated by the effects of terminal brain cancer, approximately 71 other people made the same choice in 2013, the most recent year of reported data—the peak of a gradual increase from the law’s inaugural year of 1998, when 16 people did so.

Illustration by Denny Bond for AJN. All rights reserved.

Illustration by Denny Bond for AJN. All rights reserved.

Much social media discussion has arisen from Maynard’s case, often influenced by strongly held religious and ethical principles. For nurses, the issue can be further complicated by our own clinical experiences with death. Some have argued that legalized aid in dying opens a door to hasty, emotionally fraught, irreversible decision making.

Yet few commentators discuss other practices associated with hastening dying that are commonly practiced in our health care system, as described in a 2009 CE article in AJN by Judith Schwarz, “Stopping Drinking and Eating” (free until December 1). These practices include “foregoing or discontinuing life-sustaining treatment, including medically provided nutrition and hydration (such as tube feeding),” “using high doses of opioids to treat intractable pain,” and “initiating palliative sedation.”

Schwarz’s article focuses on the case of 100-year-old Gertrude, whose progressive loss of hearing and vision and her inability to complete activities of daily living had convinced her that she needed a plan to end her own life while she still could. Because she lived in a state where physician-assisted death was not a legal choice, Gertrude and her family enlisted the counsel of Compassion and Choices for knowledge of further options. Through a series of home visits and consultations, Schwarz assisted Gertrude and her family as they considered their legal options and arrived at the voluntary decision to stop eating and drinking. Read the rest of this entry »

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Presence, Improvisation, Dark Humor: Crucial Skills of a Hospice Nurse

November 3, 2014
Illustration by Pat Kinsella for AJN.

Illustration by Pat Kinsella for AJN.

Here’s the start of “Molly,” the Reflections essay in the November issue of AJN, written by hospice nurse Thom Schwarz.

Late evening, early spring, the peepers not yet trilling. I am in my car, rain streaking the windshield, reading a New Yorker essay about war writing, an ironic distraction from my visiting hospice nursing work.

This is a piece that doesn’t offer any easy answers for the facts of suffering and death. But it does posit a certain consolation in staying present, undaunted, engaged, and resourceful when faced with the power and mystery of each patient’s encounter with impending death.

All Reflections essays are free, so give it a look.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor 

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AJN in November: Palliative Care, Mild TBI, the Ethics of Force-Feeding Prisoners, More

October 31, 2014

AJN1114.Cover.OnlineAJN’s November issue is now available on our Web site. Here’s a selection of what not to miss.

Palliative care versus hospice. For many seriously ill, hospitalized older adults, early implementation of palliative care is critical. These patients often require medically and ethically complex treatment decisions. This month’s original research article, “Staff Nurses’ Perceptions Regarding Palliative Care for Hospitalized Older Adults,” found that staff nurses often confuse palliative and hospice care, a fact that suggests a need for increased understanding and knowledge in this area. This CE feature offers 2.5 CE credits to those who take the test that follows the article.

Mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) can have profoundly negative effects on quality of life and can negatively affect relationships with family and caretakers. This issue’s other CE feature, “Mild Traumatic Brain Injury,” reviews the most commonly reported signs and symp­toms of mild TBI, explores the condition’s effects on both patient and family, and provides direction for devel­oping nursing interventions that promote patient and family adjustment. Earn 2 CE credits by taking the test that follows the article. To further explore the topic, listen to a podcast interview with the author (this and other podcasts are accessible via the Behind the Article page on our Web site or, in our iPad app, by tapping the icon on the first page of the article).

Medication safety. While preparing medications in complex health care environments, nurses are frequently distracted or interrupted, which can lead to medication errors. “Implementing Evidence-Based Medication Safety Interventions on a Progressive Care Unit,” an article in our Cultivating Quality column, describes how nursing staff at one facility implemented five medication safety interventions designed to decrease distractions and interruptions during medication preparation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ebola: A Role for Nurses in Sharing the Facts

October 29, 2014

By Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 12.27.27 PMThe current Ebola crisis has everyone concerned over transmission, and rightly so. The public has been in a quandary as to who and what to believe. I can’t say I blame them. We should have been better prepared and anticipated that, given the situation in West Africa, we would eventually see a patient with Ebola present to a U.S. hospital ED (or clinic or urgent care center). What’s surprising is that it didn’t happen sooner.

I’d thought fears about widespread transmission of Ebola had abated after no more new cases arose from that of Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas: his family, who were in the apartment with him during the time he was sick, did not contract Ebola and have since been released from quarantine; the two nurses who became ill treating Duncan have now been declared Ebola free and none of their contacts have become ill; no other nurses who provided care for him have fallen ill.

But with the onset of confirmed Ebola in a New York physician who had recently returned from caring for Ebola victims in West Africa, fears of widespread contagion resurfaced. Craig Spencer had been self-monitoring his symptoms while he went about his life; when he began to feel ill and developed a low-grade fever, he initiated a controlled transport in isolation to Bellevue Hospital.

And when nurse Kaci Hickox returned from volunteering in West Africa, she was caught in New Jersey’s new Ebola precautions and placed in mandatory quarantine in a tent outside a hospital in Newark. She protested, secured attorneys to advocate on her behalf (basing her protest on CDC recommendations that routine quarantine of nonsymptomatic health care workers is not justified), and was released to travel home to Maine, where she is now disputing Maine’s mandatory in-home quarantine and active monitoring requirement in favor of self-monitoring. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fear of Infection, Getting Job Done: Not New to Nurses

October 27, 2014

Quarantine, isolation: medical terms heavy with accreted meanings (psychological, metaphorical). Terms we’ve been hearing a lot lately, as in the case of nurse Kaci Hickox, quarantined in a tent in New Jersey after her return from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, released today after days of public controversy.

These words have vivid histories. Epidemics of polio, influenza, and other illnesses took many lives in the U.S. during the 20th century. And nurses were always there, taking risks, applying the latest knowledge to control or cure. In the April 1940 edition of the American Journal of Nursing, a nurse wrote a short but evocative essay about her own fears of entering an isolation room to treat a child with an unnamed condition, perhaps measles or scarlet fever. Here’s a snippet.

Germs

(One wonders if she had been given the recommended personal protective equipment of the time for such infections . . .)

To read the article, free until December 1, click this link and then click through to the PDF version in the upper-right corner of the landing page.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor

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Choosing Wisely: American Academy of Nursing Highlights Unnecessary Nursing Practices

October 24, 2014

The American Academy of Nursing (AAN) recently announced that it has joined the ABIM Choosing Wisely campaign with a list that focuses specifically on nursing interventions or practices that are not supported by evidence. The list is called Five Things Nurses and Patients Should Question. Here it is in short form—full explanations of the rationale for each item are available at the above link.

  1. Don’t automatically initiate continuous electronic fetal heart rate Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 11.10.10 AMmonitoring during labor for women without risk factors; consider intermittent auscultation first.
  2. Don’t let older adults lay in bed or only get up to a chair during their hospital stay.
  3. Don’t use physical restraints with an older hospitalized patient.
  4. Don’t wake the patient for routine care unless the patient’s condition or care specifically requires it.
  5. Don’t place or maintain a urinary catheter in a patient unless there is a specific indication to do so.

The Choosing Wisely initiative encourages health care provider organizations to create their own lists of tests and procedures that may be overused, unsafe, or duplicated elsewhere. Using these lists, providers can initiate conversation with their patients to help them choose the most necessary and evidence-based care for their individual situations. The lists are not meant to be proscriptive, and also address situations where the procedures may be appropriate. Read the rest of this entry »

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