Killed by Kindness

Here is another article submitted by one of my students in our Online Forensic Nursing Certification Course.

My first position as a Director of Nursing was in a medium size nursing home. The home was the result of the amalgamation of 2 older nursing homes, and the population was around 130.

The staff was mainly older staff left over from the closure of the old homes. I had been the Director of Nursing only 6 weeks when I received an early morning call informing me that one of our patients had passed away after being taken to the hospital with respiratory problems.

The patient in question was a 78 year old female with a history of throat cancer, and had a tracheostomy in place. All usual precautions were in place, including a suction machine at the bedside, head of bed elevated, and call bell in reach.

The patient was NPO, but was allowed small sips of water with supervision. It was hoped that with time the trach could be removed permanently.

On the night in question, it appears that the patient asphyxiated on a blocked inner trach cannula. She was unable to call for help because she panicked, or the call bell fell to the floor, and the patient subsequently died.

The patient was not found until the change of shift at 7 AM. The patient was cold, and it was later determined that she had been dead for approximately 5 to 6 hours. The nurse, a Licensed Practical Nurse, and the Nursing Assistant, both panicked and initially lied about the time they last saw the patient alive.

The Nursing Assistant was the first to admit that she had not seen the patient since around 1 AM. The nurse, however, insisted that she looked in on the patient around 4 AM, and convinced herself that she was properly tucked in bed with the head of the bed up and the call bell in reach.

This argument fell apart when the autopsy showed that the patient’s trach was blocked by the seed of a watermelon given by the Nursing Assistant at around 1:30 AM.

The Nurse and Nursing Assistant are both now in jail for 2 years, with 1 year suspended. There is no arguing with Forensic Science.

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