ANA on nurse's reckless homicide charge: Criminalizing medical errors may deter future reporting

The American Nurses Association released a statement regarding a former nurse at Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University Medical Center who is facing a reckless homicide charge over a medication error.

The nurse was accused of inadvertently injecting a patient with a fatal medication dose and has been indicted on charges of reckless homicide and impaired adult abuse.

The nurse's error happened in December 2017 but was not publicly revealed until a CMS inspection report was released in November 2018. The nurse was indicted Feb. 1.

"ANA supports a full and confidential peer review process in which medical errors can be examined and system improvements and corrective action plans can be established to ensure that errors such as this do not occur in the future," the statement said. "Swift and appropriate action should and must always be taken when medical errors occur."

Although healthcare is a highly complex and error-prone system, the criminalization of medical errors could have a "chilling effect on reporting and process improvement," the ANA said.

The code of ethics for nurses states that while ensuring nurses are held accountable for individual practice, errors should be corrected and disciplinary action should be taken only if warranted, the statement said.

Whether an error is one's own or a coworker's, nurses may neither participate in, nor condone through silence, any attempts to conceal the error, the statement continues.

"ANA acknowledges that the full facts and circumstances of this incident are still developing. This tragic incident should serve as reminder to all nurses, other healthcare professionals, and administrators that we must be constantly vigilant at the patient and system level," the ANA said.

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