To Forgive, Divine: Medical Errors and the Consequences for Nurses, Part II

Alexander Pope dying; from the title page to W...
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“Good-nature and good-sense must ever join; To err is human; to forgive, divine.”~Alexander Pope, Essay on Criticism

The topic of my last post “To Err Is Human” hit a raw nerve for many people. Since the post, I have heard directly from numerous former co-workers and parents of NICU patients of Kim Hiatt’s who are devastated by the news of her suicide. Many other people who did not know her personally are distressed over her death, and seek to understand what went wrong at a systems level—what we can do to prevent this from happening to other nurses.  I am struck by the inadequacy, irony, and inaccuracy of the Seattle Times article last week, “Nurse’s Suicide Follows Tragedy.” Her suicide is part of the tragedy; her suicide does not follow the tragedy. The role of local media—not only the Seattle Times but more importantly KOMO News—in this tragedy is a topic I do not possess the psychic distance to be able to address.  Of course, we the news-munching public are also culpable, since we engorge ourselves on ambulance-chasing, witch-hunting, tabloid-line blurring ‘news’ stories.

I try to keep my personal blog separate from my life as a faculty member at the University of Washington School of Nursing. But on this topic the lines blur. I listened to some of my current nursing students, as well as some very wise local nurses outside of the UW, and—with the blessing and assistance of many of my UW colleagues—we are offering a forum/panel discussion on Tuesday May 10th, 3-5pm Hogness Auditorium, UW Health Sciences Building. It is open to the public, so please join us if you can. The tentative title is the title of my last blog post, “To Err is Human: Medical Errors and the Consequences for Nurses” because—well, that is what the panel discussion will be about. So far for the panel we have top-ranking representatives from the Washington State Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission, the Washington State Nursing Association, an area suicide prevention program for health care professionals, and Joanne Silberner from the UW Department of Communications (to discuss the role/responsibilities of the media). For those of you who don’t know, May 10th is during National Nurses Week.

As I told my students this week, the news of the suicide of Kim Hiatt has re-opened wounds of my own. The topic of a future post (and a chapter in a book I am writing), I experienced the fallout in my own life of an investigation/threatened suspension of my nursing license early in my career. It was due to a (still) anonymous complaint about the scope of my practice back when the nurse practitioner role was very new and in a more conservative state than Washington. I was (I think) eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, but the stress of that time cascaded into my divorce, loss of my job, episodes of homelessness, and a bitter vow to leave nursing. The overwhelming feelings of shame, isolation, betrayal/loss of trust in the health regulatory system, led me to contemplate suicide. I did not have the media hounding me. It has taken me 25 years to be able to process those events and be able to talk about it with other nurses. Silence can be deadly.

5 thoughts on “To Forgive, Divine: Medical Errors and the Consequences for Nurses, Part II

  1. You are correct and painfully pointed – we have missed the point on this. And nothing will ever take the place of the child or the nurse lost in this .
    We have not learned that good people can make mistakes. I can only wonder how many lives she had saved in her career …..


  2. Josephine addresses many issues in her piece.

    1. Sham Peer Review. This is a perversion of the law. With doctors, the law is the Legal Carve Out called the Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 1986 (HCQIA). Under this law and case law that followed the ONLY right that the doctor has is PROCEDURAL due process which means that she has a right to a “fair” hearing which is neither fair or a hearing.

    The doctor does not have “due process” rights. Absolutely not. And, if you don’t have them, the lawyer can not create them for the doctor out of the thin air. I know this is hard to accept, but, trust me, I have done my job as CEO of The Center for Peer Review Justice ( )for 11 years. After the sham or bad faith peer review, the doctor gets “data banked” in the National Practioner Data Bank ( NPDB) which acts as a tatoo. Usually the doctor sues and I have observed that she is rarely successful. Not because there is not a “good case”, but, that the doctor only has one right under the Law, and that is procedural due process.

    The Hospital, other doctors, etc all have immunity.

    The doctor does not have constitutional rights. Sorry. If you are upset, take it up with Congress.

    But, there is HOPE. We have worked 11 years on developing solutions.

    2. Nurses. In my experience, the Nurse works for a Hospital under horrible working conditions. I don’t have to speak on this as the reader knows more about this than I do.

    3. Suicide. When one faces the threat of the loss of the License, one feels profound loss. This State Board process is almost criminal, in my opinion. Please talk it out with someone who really knows the system and is experienced.

    In the darkest hour, there IS hope.

    Richard Willner
    The Center for Peer Review Justice


  3. Doctors and Nurses deal with saving lives every day. Because of the obvious nature of the job, there are possible complications or even obvious mistakes that can result in loss of life.

    Society has a mechanism for this and it is called, “malpractice” even if life is lost. It is not called “murder”. If it was called murder, then, most doctors and nurses would run from their professions as nobody is willing to take that risk.

    Highly trained professionals do make mistakes and society resolves them in Civil Courts with an award of money.

    There are rapid changes in Nursing and Medicine today. There will be bumpy roads ahead. If I can be of assistance to anyone, please don’t hesitate to email or call me/us.

    Richard Willner
    The Center for Peer Review Justice


  4. In short, the Nursing Board of the State is a State Agency. It reports to the Governor and not to Nurses. They do not want to correct, but to punish and punish hard.

    One needs professional advice. And very practical advice also or just kiss your License good-bye.

    What is horrible is that we have seen “sham peer review” that happens to Physicians now occuring to Nurses. It is the Peer Review Fraud type. This is not a “do it yourself” project.

    But, there IS HOPE.


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