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In the News: Nurse’s Untimely Death Indicative of Public Safety Concern

The tragic death of an Ohio nurse in a single-vehicle crash earlier this year may be indicative of a larger public safety concern, according to the details of the case.

In March, 38-year-old Beth Jasper was returning home after working a night shift at the Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati. The wife and mother of two reportedly lost control of her SUV and left the road. The vehicle collided with a tree before coming to rest in a parking lot. Authorities pronounced her dead at the scene.

Less than a year later, Beth’s husband, James, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Beth’s employer. The suit asserts that Beth had been feeling particularly stressed and overwhelmed at work in the days and weeks leading up to the accident. James told reporters Beth had spoken of being unable to break even for a meal during the shift that ended just prior to her death.

Further, the lawsuit asserts Beth and her fellow registered nurses often had to work beyond their shift’s end and skip breaks due to insufficient staff numbers. Beth’s specialty work in the bone marrow transplant unit meant she was often “called in” during her off hours, leaving her little time to recuperate and prepare for her next shift.

Personal injury attorney Rob Levine expressed his thoughts on the accident and the larger concerns at play.

“It is unfortunate that a mother of two had to lose her life due to corporate greed,” Levine said. “It is far-too-often that corporations – in this case, a hospital – put the bottom line before their employees. It is less expensive to hold a nurse over and have her work overtime, or call a nurse in to cover a shift, than pay to have the right staff-to-patient ratios and increase salaries and benefits. Our thoughts and wishes go out to the family.”

Issues like mandatory overtime and staffing shortages at hospitals and medical facilities represent several key public safety hazards.

First, nurses (and other shift workers) are vulnerable to the effects of driver fatigue and “drowsy driving,” as evidenced by Beth Jasper’s untimely death. This places not only the employee at risk, but other drivers and passengers as well. In fact, drowsy driving is believed to be a factor in more than 100,000 accidents each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Second, overworked and overtired nurses and other medical professionals jeopardize patient safety. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) has stated: “Mandatory overtime is identified as a workplace issue and a patient safety issue.”

The AACN said mandatory overtime can mean a 12- to 16-hour shift, with little advance notice. Nurses are given no freedom to decline – even if they are fatigued and worried about patient safety. Such practices can lead to an increase in medication errors and length of hospital stays, and an overall decrease in the quality of care.

Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut have put into place mandatory overtime laws in an effort to curb this dangerous practice. The laws prohibit hospitals from forcing nurses and other professionals to exceed a pre-determined number of weekly hours.

Unfortunately, such laws are no guarantee employers will do the right thing. Medical errors can and do persist based on such oversights and acts of negligence. In these types of cases, there may be grounds for taking legal action.

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