KOMO News Problem Makers

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Tracy Vedder with our Seattle-based TV KOMO News Problem Solvers should have been at our panel discussion yesterday on med errors and the consequences for nurses. Perhaps she could have learned something. But instead she was hot on the case of two Seattle Children’s Hospital nurses who were charged with professional misconduct yesterday by the Washington State Nursing Commission. Last night she aired a news piece that sensationalizes and distorts the facts.

The online link to the video news portion is bookended by an ad for UNICEF. A mop-headed sad-faced boy says, “22,000 children die every day for reasons the world has the power to prevent.” It then cuts to the two newscasters sitting behind a desk with a large screen in front stating in large letters: “Nurses Charged”. Then Tracy Vedder is shown in front of the Washington State Department of Health, and states that two Children’s Hospital nurses were charged with unprofessional conduct—with SERIOUS conduct violations (her head spins around to emphasize ‘serious’). She goes on to name the two nurses several times. She describes the transport nurse as giving three medications “without any doctor’s orders” and says the baby in that case died. She states the ER nurse gave an adult patient epinephrine by IV instead of IM. The patient had arrhythmias but was stabilized.

Ms. Vedder fails to mention that the medications the transport nurse gave were appropriate ones, that the medical examiner determined the baby died of natural causes, and that both state and federal authorities cited Children’s Hospital with a lack of clear guidelines for transport staff.  Tracy Vedder also fails to report that in the case of the ER nurse, an ER doctor incorrectly prescribed the epinephrine to be given IV, but was not charged because he “didn’t intend any harm.”  All of this information is in easily obtained publicly available documents, including official written statements by Dr. David Fisher, Medical Director for Seattle Children’s Hospital.

By contrast, Carol Ostrom (please note, this is her correct name–not Tracy Ostrom–apologies Carol!) of the Seattle Times has a remarkably balanced and insightful article today about the nurses being charged. She was at our panel discussion yesterday, but I draw no cause and effect conclusions. I think it was a case of selection bias. Yesterday in the panel discussion, NPR’s Joanne Silburner encouraged the audience to be responsible consumers of news media, and to recognize the limitations of TV news. She also encouraged nurses in the audience to speak out more, to know which newspaper reporters are professional (including ethical), and to talk with those reporters when given the opportunity. I would add: stop watching TV news. Lead by example.

The other lesson I learned yesterday: Kim Hiatt’s suicide should be a “never again” event, and all of us have a responsibility to ensure that is the case. Two of our nurses in Seattle are being publicly fried by KOMO News and others. Let’s not be silent about that. In whatever ways we can, we should each offer appropriate support to these two nurses—and to all of the ‘collateral damage’ nurses who know and have worked with them.

5 thoughts on “KOMO News Problem Makers

  1. I appreciate the value of bloggers in our new media arena – but while I as a working journalist have to answer to my bosses and editorial peer review before one of my stories airs to ensure accuracy – perhaps we should question the vetting process for a blog post. This is a perfect example.
    First, the link you have supplied is not to my story but rather to a story about wedding vendor scams. And with just a little research you would also have realized that the Unicef ad did NOT lead into my story about the state proffering charges to two Seattle Children’s nurses. But, of course, the way you’ve written it makes us seem much more heartless, no?
    Likewise as a professional journalist I don’t use inflammatory language such as, “her head spins around to emphasize serious;” – although the Linda Blair characterization is certainly titillating on your part – is it really accurate?
    Finally, where is the sensationalization or distortion? Two nurses were charged with professional misconduct, they are serious charges, I gave brief descriptions of the allegations including the fact the Medical Examiner in the transport case determined that baby died of natural causes.
    We have stuck to a clear reporting of the facts of these cases based on the information in the reports issued by the State Department of Health. I can appreciate that you and others don’t like this, but absolutely everything in this report and previous reports has been accurate.
    I would also urge you to please remember that the public at large has a deep and abiding interest in ensuring that all its health institutions are operating by the highest standards and that is the public to which we, as a news organization, must answer.
    Again, I can appreciate that you have a different perspective and I would respectfully submit that it is perhaps a biased perspective. We have no interest in sensationalizing cases like this or in any way vilifying good people – but we do have an obligation to serve the larger public interest.


    1. Ms. Vedder, Thank you for your note. I have fixed the link directly to your news story instead of to today’s story on wedding scams. I appreciate you pointing out that error. As I have never owned a TV, I watched your news piece via the KOMO News website/video links. Someone at KOMO had to have made the decision to link the UNICEF ad to your story.

      Also, as Joanne Silburner pointed out to the audience at the panel event on Tuesday, people need to be wise consumers of all news media sources, including blogs. I am quite clear on my blog that Medical Margins is not a news blog, but rather is an advocacy blog. To quote from my blog section About Medical Margins, “These are my personal reflections on health care and social justice from my perspective as a nurse practitioner.” I go on to state, “Note on my personal blogging ethical code: I blog as if my mother were reading every word I write. If you knew my mother, you would understand that this is a much higher ethical code than any existing blogger’s code of ethics (cyberjournalist.net has a good one).” As my mother vetted my latest blog post, I stand by what I wrote.


  2. Ms. Vedder, the fact that you respond to a nursing blog entry in such a hot headed way is very telling. Why are you so defensive if you feel as though you have done right by these nurses?
    You are telling only a fraction of the story and although you are telling what you know to be the truth may not be the truth according to another source. Your source is one side of a very complicated story. Two stories in fact.
    I suggest you follow a nurse in their work setting for a week and see how many loop holes they have to get through on a daily basis to do their job as safely as possible. It is not an easy task to advocate patient safety in the mega-system that is modern medical care today.
    Why on earth were these physicians not called on the carpet?
    Why are you witch hunting these nurses? Do you know these nurses personally? I bet if you did you would refrain from releasing their names to the public. What does anyone gain from invading the privacy of these hard working nurses?
    Your attempt to justify it by saying you owe it to the public to be informed doesn’t hold water. The public deserves the whole truth, not your sensationalized fraction of the story. Why not begin your report by telling the public how many children these two nurses have saved in their career leading up to this moment of judgement? You aren’t saving the public from two evil, dangerous nurses. You are instilling fear.
    Also, you may not realize that it isn’t just the words you use to tell your report, but the inflections that throw accusation in ways that are unnecessary.
    One of the reasons Kim Hiatt may have committed suicide in the aftermath of her Calcium error may have been due to the manner in which the news of the error was reported. Shall we then treat the journalists who exposed her story with half truths with the same dehumanizing and humiliating process? If a journalist makes an error, does her audience die as a consequence as can nurses’ patients potentially do so? In this specific case, one begs the question.


  3. To Ms. Ensign and SeattleRN: I understand that there is always more to the story and appreciate that you have a particular – and important – perspective. I was trying to add a bit of context from my perspective and if that came off as being defensive then that is due to my poor writing skills.
    Let me just say one more thing, I have a great deal of respect for any individual who devotes their life to the medical profession; much is expected of them and perhaps far too few rewards. I have both nurses and a nursing student in my own family so I do appreciate the demands of this profession.


  4. Let me be staight up: It sucks to be a Nurse in a Hospital. But honest mistakes are just that—- mistakes. Really rare events. They are are called “malpractice”.

    There is a certain probability for every event in life. If you do something enough, you will hit that reality.

    And, we all make mistakes. If you fire every RN who makes a mistake, let housekeeping do the RN job.



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