Valerie Neff Newitt is senior associate editor at ADVANCE who recently wrote an interesting but disturbing article called "When Nurses Kill". The article reminds us why background checks and vigilant supervision of employees are necessary at nursing homes. Much of the information in the article came from Professor John Field.
"There’s nothing more counterintuitive than the idea of a nurse killing a patient – on purpose. The notion of a bedside provider easing a suffering patient into euthanasia may be morally abhorrent to some, but there is at least a motivation of compassion in the deed. But imagine, if you will, the idea of a nurse intent on inflicting bodily harm and death on sometimes fully defenseless patients. It is an idea that passes all understanding."
Field offered a whirlwind tour of global serial killers, noting that the most notorious multiple murderers in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, United Kingdom, Canada and the U.S., all happened to be healthcare workers. And in four of those six countries, that worker was a nurse.
The heinous act is one seen ’round the world. Field told of an Italian nurse who kept notes on how she injected air into five patients causing death by embolism; a Scottish nurse who injected patients with insulin; a German RN who killed 22 nursing home patients; a Brit nurse who specifically killed babies; an Egyptian nurse who was romantically rejected by a neurosurgeon prompting her to kill 22 of his patients; a Swiss provider who injected tranquilizers before placing plastic bags over victims’ faces. And these killers can be homegrown, as well. Field talked of a Massachusetts RN who killed off war veterans and a Texan nurse who injected bleach into his patients’ veins. In Georgia one nurse manipulated care to induce codes. "Then he would conveniently be on the scene to save the day, and become the hero of the moment," told Field. But there were the times when he simply couldn’t save the patients he put into death’s pathway.
And to prove that it could happen close to home, Field mentioned nurse Charles Cullen, who by his own account murdered as many as 40 patients across 16 years of practice at 10 institutions in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Field said vigilance on the part of observant nurses remains the key to stopping such tragic behavior. He pointed to "red flags" published in 2003 by forensic nurse Kelly M. Pyrek detailing questionable behaviors that might be indicative of murderous behavior. Field suggested every nurse:
must never dismiss the possibility that a nurse may be murdering patients;
keep clear and open lines of communication at the workplace;
be aware of Pyrek’s "red flags"
find out if others share suspicions you may have;
report suspicions if they are strong and well-grounded
never tolerate aberrant behavior; you are entitled to professional conduct from colleagues.
Field concluded by proclaiming that hospitals must do their part to minimize such a tragic possibility by maintaining a culture of respect, supportiveness, reflection, open communications and zero tolerance for "bad or mean" behaviors from anyone