Are striking nurses to blame when a patient dies?

September 29, 2011

by Susan Rosenthal

Hospital administrators traditionally use the threat of patient harm to dissuade healthcare workers from striking. This is a powerful argument because healthcare workers, being extremely conscientious, are reluctant to do anything that might harm our patients.

Well, the worst case scenario happened during the recent one-day nurses strike – a patient died from a medical error at the hands of a scab nurse.

Does this mean that the nurses were irresponsible to strike?

Management will no doubt say “yes” and blame the nurses for this tragic death.

And some nurses will agree, in the belief that even one patient death is not worth the risk.

I disagree.

An estimated 98,000 Americans die from preventable medical errors every year. And every year, another 99,000 patients die from hospital-acquired infections, most of which are also preventable. In total, the death toll from preventable medical injuries and infections in the US is close to 200,000 people per year, more than motor vehicle accidents, poisoning, firearms and falls combined.

It would be very surprising if no one died of a medical error during a strike, when people die from medical errors every day.

Healthcare workers strike to improve patient care, so fewer patients will die.

Management’s disregard for patient welfare is to blame for the preventable deaths in our hospitals. Management also provokes the strikes and hires the scabs.

Workers must not take responsibility for management decisions.

If we were in charge of the health service, the number of preventable deaths would plummet to the absolute minimum.

This patient’s death is a reminder that the wrong people are in charge of our health service and that healthcare workers are the only people who will fight to protect patients’ rights.

(Watch video of nurses’ memorial for the patient who died after Sutter locked out its experienced nurses, and read the nurses’ response)

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 Posted by at 8:08 pm