CA Hospital Patient's Death Betrays a Trust

John Commins, October 3, 2011

Surveys show that the public reveres nurses as the "most trusted" professionals. It's a well-deserved reputation built one patient at a time over decades of dedication and advocacy.

Sadly, that trust was violated in the death of Judith Ming, 66, and that makes her tragedy all the more disturbing. 

The circumstances surrounding Ming's death on Sept. 24 at Sutter Health's Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, CA remain under investigation. The accident occurred during the second-day of a five-day lockout of unionized staff who had walked off the job during a one-day strike on Sept. 22.

Preliminary reports indicate that Ming, who for months had battled ovarian cancer, died one day after a replacement nurse accidentally put a nutritional supplement into a catheter that entered her bloodstream. For the sake of expediency, anyone not familiar with the story can read this detailed account.  

Ming's death was tragic enough. Unfortunately, what followed was a travesty, as the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, Sutter Health, and the California Hospital Association executives abandoned decorum and traded barbs and pointed fingers.  

"An incident like this is chilling and strikes right to our nurses' concern about their ability to advocate for their patients," CNA/NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It was irresponsible to lock out those nurses."

DeMoro's comments prompted a return salvo from Sutter Health, which posted a statement on its Website expressing deep regret for Ming's death, but also castigating union leaders for "exploiting the tragic death of this patient to further their own bargaining purposes, which is a shame."

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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