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2 Investigators: Was Patient’s Death Result Of Overworked Nurses?

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Hillary Parsons talks about the death of her physician husband, Kevin. (CBS)

Hillary Parsons talks about the death of her physician husband, Kevin. (CBS)

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Award-winning Chicago journalist Dave Savini serves as investigative...
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CHICAGO (CBS) — A doctor who was a patient at a local hospital died, and a medication mix-up is being blamed.

CBS 2’s Dave Savini spoke with Hillary Parsons, whose husband, Kevin died, at Northwestern Memorial in 2009.

“Stay with them,” Parsons warns about having a family member in the hospital.  “Stay with them all the time.”

She wishes she never left her husband’s side while he was hospitalized.

“It’s my biggest regret,” she said.

Her husband was a 55-year-old physician, father of two, and diabetic. While at Northwestern Medical Center, a nurse gave him insulin at midnight, even though his medical chart said he was not supposed to get it. For hours, no one recognized he was hypoglycemic and needed sugar.

“He seized, went into a coma, and they left him there,” his widow says.

He died 2 ½ weeks later.

Attorney Stephen Phillips filed a lawsuit against the hospital. He says Kevin Parsons could have been saved with a basic blood-sugar test, which takes about a minute to administer.

Had Parsons’ blood sugar been tested, hospital staff would have known all he needed was sugar, the attorney says. A glass or orange juice could have prevented his death.

The lawsuit against Northwestern uncovered a disturbing finding.

“The nurses had said, ‘We need more help.  We need less patients or more nurses'” said Phillips.  “And those complaints by the nurses on that floor at Northwestern had been rebuffed.”

One of the nurses caring for Parsons — but not the one who gave him the insulin — gave a videotaped deposition in the case. Megan Creech complained about nurse staffing levels in a videotaped deposition under oath.

“You were 99 percent of the time swamped and understaffed,” the nurse said.

She also testified that she complained about the nursing shortage to management at least 15 times prior to Kevin Parsons’ death and said other nurses complained, too.

Also during the deposition, Creech indicated Dr. Parsons tried to get help as his condition worsened.

“Dr. Parson called me around 2:15,” Creech said. “He hit his call light but was unable to speak.”

Creech said she then called the hospital’s Rapid Response.

Susan Swart, head of the Illinois Nurses Association, says she applauds Creech for telling the truth during the deposition.

“Every time she made that complaint, she was letting management know that there was a patient at risk,” Swart says.

She says staffing levels are a dangerous problem in hospitals everywhere.

“When you put a nurse under pressure, working short-staffed, having to run from room to room to room, and not being able to prioritize because she is short staffed — these kind of mistakes happen,” Swart says.

She says nurses’ pay comes out of what the hospital earns from room charges, and they fall victim to budgetary cutbacks because they do not bill separately like doctors.

Hillary Parsons, who also is a nurse, says there needs to be change.

“With anyone’s death for profit, that’s sickening, makes me cry,” she says.

Parsons recently received a large settlement from Northwestern Medical Center.

Since Kevin Parsons’ death, a new Illinois law went into effect requiring hospitals to create nursing care committees. However, there is no teeth to it and hospitals do not have to make any recommended changes.

A spokesperson for Northwestern Memorial issued the following statement:

“Our deepest sympathy is extended to the Parsons family. Dr. Parsons’ death was the result of an unfortunate error and was not in any way related to nurse staffing levels.

“Patient safety is top priority at Northwestern Memorial, and we consistently adhere to the highest standards for nursing care—as evidenced by our Nurse Magnet designation, one of the nation’s top nursing honors. We have numerous safeguards that protect patients, and that includes maintaining appropriate and safe staffing levels.”

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