HCA hospital staff link device malfunction, patient death to understaffing

A patient at North Suburban Medical Center died in May after staff members failed to change the battery on the individual's pulse oximeter in a timely manner, according to a state inspection report cited by The Denver Post.

The patient was seeking treatment for COVID-19 at the Thornton, Colo.-based hospital May 23. A technician called a nurse to have her change the pulse oximeter's battery, per standard hospital procedure. However, the nurse was caring for other patients and did not respond to the call for more than 30 minutes, according to the inspection report. The technician, who was assigned 46 patients, did not realize the battery hadn't been changed for more than 30 minutes. She called the nurse again, who arrived after another 10 minutes.

At this point, the patient was not breathing, and was pronounced dead after resuscitation attempts failed, according to the inspection report. When hospital leadership asked the nurse about the incident, she told them insufficient staffing was to blame, but they never responded, inspectors said.

The Denver Post spoke with five nurses and a physician who've worked at North Suburban Medical Center, among other hospitals owned by Denver-based HealthOne. The clinicians, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, claimed understaffing was a common issue that sometimes led to lapses in basic hygiene and preventable pressure sores or infections. 

HealthOne expressed its condolenses to the patient's family and said it worked with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on a corrective action plan to address the issues.

"Our staffing, which is based on provider skill mix and patient acuity, is appropriate and consistent with national standards, and upon a recent follow-up visit by the CDPHE, we were found to be in compliance with state standards," Stephanie Sullivan, assistant vice president of media relations and video content for Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare, which owns HealthOne, said in a statement to Becker's. "While our pursuit of clinical excellence is a continual effort, we are proud of our caregivers whose dedication to patient care is the reason North Suburban Medical Center has been recognized for healthcare quality by organizations like The Leapfrog Group, Healthgrades and IBM Watson."

To view the full article, click here.

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