Registered nurse Charles Cullen, convicted of murdering at least 40 patients under his care, made his first television appearance on 60 Minutes. I was aghast as the details of his murderous behavior unfolded.
Cullen apparently moved from nursing position to nursing position without consequence. His career in the most trusted profession spanned 16 years as an employee in nine different hospitals. After his 2003 arrest he was dubbed "Angel of Death" by the media.
I can recall revising our documentation form for emergency situations (Code 99/Cardiac arrest sheet) at that time to include all healthcare professionals present during an emergency patient situation. This was suggested as a risk management strategy to ensure that no suspicious behavior was associated with a sudden change in patient status.
Author of The Good Nurse, Charles Graeber spent 10 years investigating the life and murderous career of Charles Cullen. His findings are based on hundreds of pages of previously unseen police records, interviews, wire-tap recordings, and conversations with the confidential informant who helped bring him to justice. Fortunately, a fellow nurse was willing to put everything at risk and helped prevent further murders of unsuspecting patients.
The televised interview clearly demonstrated the eagerness of hospital administrators to cover up the unexplained pattern of deaths associated with this RN. Instead of dealing with the issues, Mr. Cullen was allowed to leave his positions from at least eight different hospitals without a complete investigation and notification of the authorities, such as the State Board of Nursing or law enforcement agencies -- it seemed easier to pass the problem on to someone else.
The investigators stated that staff suspected this nurse in these deaths but failed to obtain or seek out conclusive evidence. I wonder what actions were taken by staff in these circumstances. Did the work environment welcome verbalization of concerns for patient safety? Was the administration receptive to these comments? Has anyone ever witnessed patient safety issues that made you uncomfortable?
I have not read the actual book; however, the televised interview will leave the public feeling less than confident in actions taken by hospital administrators when dealing with suspicious matters.
Nursing is rated as the most trusted profession, and we must take every opportunity to maintain this trust. How can we ensure that unusual circumstances are reported in a timely manner and to the appropriate people who will take appropriate action?
Nursing as a profession must take the initiative to be sure that we truly deserve the trust of our public. Can our nursing colleagues share changes that have occurred in the work environment to prevent such disastrous situations from occurring again?