Students learn about legal perspectives of nursing

Jessica GuerrucciReporter

When it comes to being a nurse, Steven Jacobs said the job can be stressful, but the fact that nurses are pulled in many different directions does not excuse them when they make a mistake.

On April 15, Southern’s National Association of Hispanic Nurses invited Jacobs, a Jacobs & Jacobs attorney, a law firm that handles injury cases, to come speak to students and offer a legal perspective on medical malpractice and tips on how it can be avoided.

“The first thing that you must do, and I think I’m just speaking from the standpoint of common sense, is be cautious, be circumspect, in other words be careful in the way that you provide nursing care and be clear in the way that you provide that care,” said Jacobs.

In addition to being cautious, Jacobs said having a good bedside manner and keeping good records are a necessity. He also gave clear definitions of what does and does not define medical malpractice.

“We turn away most cases because most complaints that we receive because they are not malpractice, more often than not, they are bad outcomes that lead people to think that the bad outcome must have resulted
from a medical mistake,” said Jacobs.

Ioanna Lemonas, who is the president of NAHN, said she has already heard much of what Jacobs said though the legal course that Southern offers, Legal Issues in Healthcare, but the issue is that it is an elective.

“Not everybody takes it and not everybody has the knowledge,” said Lemonas. “We both took the course and we know what’s going on, but some other people are not taking the course and they are not really familiar.”

Jacobs discussed the case of Tennessee vs. Vaught, where a nurse gave a patient the wrong medication that ended up being a paralytic, causing the patient to go into cardiac arrest and end up brain dead, being taken off life support by the family shortly after.

Jacobs compared the Tennessee law, where the case took place, with Connecticut law. and said he does not believe she will be held accountable because of how words like “reckless” are defined. Ryan Johnson, a nursing major, said he agreed with his perspective.

“Based on the information he provided, it seems it’s often those very tiny technicalities in the wording of a law that can sometimes decide a case,” said Johnson.
While a life was taken in the Vaught case, Daniele White, the vice president of NAHN, said that nurses are human, and she was most likely unaware of what she was doing.

“We have learned about cases where nurses were aware that they were doing harm and they did it, so those people should be incarcerated, license removed, and all that, but in her case, she just did something without being careful,” said White.

On the other hand, Jamal Barrett, a nursing major, disagreed and said that she should have been held accountable. He said he believes she went against what the computer was telling her and had the chance to correct it.

“Medication systems have certain checks put in place so you prevent medical error, but I feel like because she overrode it. She had the opportunity to make sure it was the right type and check to see if it was the right name, but she overrode it,” said Barrett.

Lemonas said the first thing people learn when they come into medical school is the five rights of medication administration: the right patient, the right drug, the right dose, the right route, and the right time, and that following these will help prevent malpractice. Additionally, White said that it is critical to stick to the protocol.

“Yale New Haven Hospital, they have a little star where you have to stop and think, and the medication area, you should not be talking to other people,” said White. “So, follow the five rights, and follow protocol, because they are there to maintain safety for everybody.”

Photo Credit: Izzy Manzo

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