It’s not about race . . .

Last week, I received a distressing call from someone who heard me speak at a national conference on toxic people in the workplace.

The story she related involved accountability, competency, abandonment, management, female relationships/expectations, policy, morale, confronting, emotion, death, and probably a lawsuit. And ethics.

In a nutshell, a nurse in a maternal unit was responsible for two patients. After telling a doctor that the unit was swamped and couldn’t handle an elective procedure that the doctor wanted to do during a routine delivery, she proceeded to “hand-off” her patients to two other nurses who already had five patients each that they were overseeing and left her workplace for several hours to attend one of her kid’s activities.

When she returned several hours later, the unit was in turmoil. One of the “hand-offs” delivered, unattended by nurse or doctor, and the infant died.

The next day, one of the coworkers blew the whistle and all hell broke lose. When the doctor heard what happened and who the nurse was, the doctor’s position was, “off with her head”; coworkers backed away and were fearful of working with her but also PO’d at the whistle blower; and the nurse in question was under the protection of the Director of Nursing–the two women had a friendship that had evolved from the days both were staff nurses.

The nurse who had taken the time away from the unit was black, the Director was black and the current staff was quite diverse in culture and age. Rumors flew that the only reason she wasn’t suspended or terminated was that she was a friend of the Director and that they were both black. Needless to say, the department was severely fractured.

The question that was posted to me was, “What would I do? . . . What should we do?”

Start with getting the facts; start with asking about policies and procedures in dealing with workplace issues and infractions; and it needs to be dealt with NOW, not over a period of months. This cannot be about friendship and race. It’s about competency and accountability. It’s about workplace relationships and trust. It’s about the morale of all (For starters, Do the doctors want to work with this nurse? Do the other nurses want to work with her? If you were a patient, would you want her to be your nurse if you knew that she had left a patient as she did and the outcome? Was the situation reported and to whom? Was legal involved? HR? Has a complaint been filed with the State licensing board?).

If the situation is not handled timely, everyone loses. This definitely cannot be about friendship and race. It’s competency accountability and abandonment.

Good nurses will most likely leave (the workplace isn’t safe for patient or employee and management shows blatant favoritism). That means big bucks get spent in replacement costs.

If the nurse is deemed negligent and she remains “protected”, doctors may elect to take their patients to a competing hospital (that nurse won’t get near one of my patients again). Big bucks are lost via lost revenues.

A lawsuit could be filed and if it lands in front of a jury, the outcome from just the emotional fallout to the mother could be huge. More big bucks.

What will be the final outcome? I don’t know. I’ve made my recommendations, which are quite strong. I do know that the hospital could/should reduce the financial and emotional effect. The question is, will it?

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