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

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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.”

More from Dave Savini
  • chris

    that’s a stupid assumption and generalization mr. michaels. nurses are very hard working and often lack the respect they need from patients and their families. maybe you should try and shadow a nurse and see how much they go through day in and day out.

  • Raymond Prudente

    For the past 11 years, NURSES were judged the most honest and ethical profession. 81 percent of Americans judged NURSES “Very High” honesty and ethical standards. A significant greater percentage than for the next-highest-rated professions, MILITARY OFFICERS and PHARMACISTS. (Honesty and ethics ratings of professions tested every third year, 2004-2010)

  • Roberta Waker

    You are WRONG, Mr. Michaels. Nurses are overworked, smarter than most of the doctors they work for because they spend more time with the patients and most of them are married BEFORE they become nurses. I can tell you first hand that most of them are caring and proficient at what they do. Of course, there are always exceptions just like in your job. These days the CNAs are more likely to reply to the nurse’s light than the nurse, but that is because of too many patients per nurse. This needs to be changed NOW.

  • J. Michaels

    pure ignorance

  • Anne - Chicago

    It is sad that our health care has deteriotated to such levels. Obama healthcare law suggest that high quality heatlh care will be available to everyone, but the reality is that nursing are overworked and understaffed. So who is really going to take care of the patients?! Moreover, nursing doesn’t pay a living wage for the amount of work required. Additionally, hospitals like Northwestern will never admit that there is a shortage because they are a for profit institution and patient is the last on their minds.

    • Rodi

      The nurse gave insulin when no order was put in the chart, I think it’s not staffing or nursing as a profession, but the nurse IN QUESTION MADE A MISTAKE AND gave a medication that was not ordered by physician, so let’s don’t look for lame excuses.

    • Ellen Wright

      You are absolutely correct, Anne. Most nurses I know-and I’ve known/know quite a few-do it because they want to-not for the money or for the chance to ‘land a doctor”. In fact, most are already married and have children before they ever go into the profession. At least the ones I know are. Truth be told-most nurses wouldn’t marry a doctor on a bet. They hate the life doctors live-they’re never home, they never spend time with their families, they’re always working, and, at least for the first half of their careers, they carry enormous student loans. Plus-the wives/partners are expected to fulfill very high social roles-Junior League, etc-that most of them care nothing about.

      It depends on where you work and who you are working with in large part. For profits are the worst. Not for profits are mid-range. The best are probably the academic/teaching hospitals. All have their problems. It varies by region, too.

      Bottom line-get in, get out-and go home to get better.

  • Roberta Waker

    I am NOT a nurse, but have many friends who ARE and have enough experience in visiting friends and relatives to know what is going on in hospitals. I hope you have a chance to experience hospital care, first hand, THEN tell us nurses are stupid and lazy after they save your miserable life. Since you seem so familiar with the terms “stupid” and “lazy” you must be speaking from experience. As for teachers, I don’t think they are overworked, but that’s a whole new story. Anyway, have a nice day and stay healthy because every nurse in the state will be waiting for you.

  • Katie

    There was obviously something else that caused the death of this poor man, not a single hypoglycemic event. The man died 2 weeks after the event. As the report states, he called for the nurse who then called a rapid response. Even if there was a medication error involved, the hypoglcemic event was not the cause of a death 2 weeks later. It may have precipitated a series of unfortunate events but did not cause the death. This upsets me as a nurse practitioner that the medication error is being blamed for the death… when in fact the cause of death was something else. This poor nurse that has to deal with this wrongful blame or the hospital for that matter. It’s unfortunate for the un/undereducated person.

    • Katie

      It’s unfortunate for the family’s loss but the wrongful blame is pure ignorance of an un/undereducated person

    • lulu lemon

      Definitely not the nurse’s fault. Yes terrible outcome, but not the nurse’s fault. There is not only one nurse in the entire hospital. Many staff I am sure were involved in this case. I agree with Katie. May more things going on here then a single hypoglycemic event. Sorry, just can’t buy it.

      • lulu lemon

        Really think this wife should re-think who she should blame. Leave the poor nurse’s alone.

  • Hillary Parsons

    My name is Hillary Parsons and it was my beloved husband Kevin who died at Norhtwestern Hospital on Feb 27, 2009. I have been an RN for over 25 years. My husband an MD, Geritrician for 20 years. He was a hero to many. For my children and I this loss will never be OK. There is no closure, and no justice. How could any RN forget to do a simple blood sugar? Why was he left in bed comatose for 5 hours without any care? When he was transferred to MICU his blood sugar was 11. I do blame the nurse and everyone else who denied responsibility in this case. I live every minute of every day without him. His children and I grieve constantly for his loss.

    At this point–what does it matter! I have nothing, no one, no love, no best friend, no hero, no happiness. My life is over. So, while everyone has their own opinion, just think of how it would feel to be me. One day we are talking about taking dancing lessons, and the next he is brain dead. I can tell you all the details regarding why I waited 2 weeks to take him off life support, but just know that after I did that I got in bed and held him in the dark for 4 days until he died. He tried to stay with me, but finally death took him. Please just think once in a while for the kind man he was, and my everlasting love.

  • nurseANN

    My prayers go out to the parson family and friends. I am a nurse and in my opinion a nurses job is the most dangerous job in health care because all it takes is one mistake or one more extra patient and someone else could die because the nurse did not have time to attend to the patient. The money nurses make is not worth the stress from rude doctors and disrespectful families. I feel sorry for the people who truly need good nursing care because our healthcare system only cares about insurance payments, patient care is secondary.

  • Lisa DiMonte

    A very sad story and what a tragedy for the patient and his family. A friend of mine, Patrick Malone, who is a plaintiff’s medical malpractice attorney, wrote a phenomenal book called “The Life You Save: 9 Steps to Finding the Best Medical Care and Avoiding the Worst.” Pat provides practical tips from his years of seeing great and not-so-great care. I know one of the things he recommends is never leave a loved one alone in the hospital.The paperback can be found on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Life-You-Save-Care–Avoiding/dp/0738213047/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1320788184&sr=8-3 for less than $12.

  • http://personalinjury.thereviewhunter.com/chicago-medical-malpractice-attorney-stephen-d-phillips-settles-multimillion/ Chicago Medical Malpractice Attorney Stephen D. Phillips Settles Multimillion ... : TheReviewHunter.Com : Personal injury

    […] had rebuffed her concerns and apparently put profits over safe patient care, she said in an interview with CBS News Chicago that also included comments from Phillips and the victim’s wife, Hillary […]

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