Former Healthcare Workers Denied Public Benefits Because of Medication Errors

Courts in two recent cases affirmed denials of unemployment benefits to healthcare workers, finding that their terminations resulted from employment misconduct. Both workers lost their jobs because of medication errors. In Steffey v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, a Pennsylvania court ruled that a nurse intentionally failed to follow protocols for reporting and treating patient complaints. A Minnesota court found that a series of errors constituted employment misconduct in Matoke v. Restart, Inc.

Wanda G. Steffey, the claimant, appealed a denial of unemployment benefits after she was terminated from her position as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) in March 2011. She testified that she had been a LPN since 1978, and had worked at the Berkshire Center since 2005. She allegedly learned, during a shift on March 11, 2011, of a patient complaining of chest pain who had a history of high blood pressure. The employer alleged that she gave the patient medicine for indigestion without authorization, and that she did not report the patient’s condition for up to three hours. This violated the employer’s protocols, which required her to check vital signs and report immediately to the charge nurse.

The claimant testified that she attempted to report to the charge nurse when she realized her medication error, but that the charge nurse was not at the station. She said she decided to monitor the patient’s condition herself, and reported the matter to the charge nurse about ninety minutes later. According to the court, the claimant admitted on cross-examination that she could usually find the charge nurse elsewhere in the facility. The court concluded, based on the claimant’s own testimony, that she intentionally did not follow protocol by providing medication to a patient without orders and by not reporting the matter to the charge nurse right away.

In the second case, the claimant, Karen Matoke, worked as a home health aide at a group home. The residents had suffered various traumatic brain injuries, and her job included administering and documenting medications for the residents. The home’s informal policy was to terminate workers who accrued five medication errors. The claimant reportedly received four warnings for errors during the year preceding July 2011. On July 22, 2011, she allegedly committed a fifth error by failing to document medications as they were administered.

The state denied her claim for unemployment benefits, and she appealed, arguing that her decision to wait until the end of her shift to document the residents’ medications was not misconduct. The court found that the home’s policy of requiring documentation at the time the worker administers medications is reasonable, and that its decision to discharge the claimant was based on her entire employment record. Rather than focusing exclusively on the alleged events of July 22, the court noted the other four medication errors already on file, and affirmed the finding of misconduct.

Health care facilities, including hospitals, group homes, pharmacies, and doctor’s offices, owe a duty of care to their patients to provide quality service. The Maryland attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen can assist victims of medication errors, who have been injured by drugs prescribed, dispensed, or administered incorrectly. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Hospital Patients Possibly Affected by Radiology Technician Suspected in Hepatitis C Outbreak, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, August 30, 2012
Johns Hopkins Study Recommends Training of Nurse-Pharmacist Teams to Review Patient Drug Regimens, as a Way to Prevent Medication Errors, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, August 8, 2012
State Revokes Three Professionals’ Licenses to Prescribe Medication, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, December 20, 2011

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