Fox's resident anti-union zealot, Eric Bolling, leapt at the opportunity to blame the death of a patient on striking nurses in California, calling it "a death that's on the hands of the union." Bolling stated that "this is clearly a case of someone dying because of a union strike," and argued that "when people's lives are at stake," workers should not be allowed to strike, collectively bargain, or even unionize. But Bolling failed to mention an important part of the story.
According to ABC News, the striking nurses from the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, where the patient was being cared for, "tried to return to work Friday, but hospital officials turned them away." The patient died on Saturday. From ABC's story:
California authorities are investigating the death of a patient at an Oakland hospital that police and hospital and union officials said resulted from a medication error made during a labor dispute between nurses and the health system that runs the hospital.
Police and officials at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center told the local media the woman died after she received an incorrect dose of medication administered by a replacement nurse. At the time, regular staff nurses employed by Sutter Health System were locked out following a one-day strike by 23,000 nurses across the state.
The California Nurses Association, the state nurses' union, blamed the woman's death on the lockout. After Thursday's strike, the association said, nurses at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center tried to return to work Friday, but hospital officials turned them away.
The union called the lockout "dangerous" and questioned whether the nurses hired as replacements were clinically qualified to care for the patients.
"Nurses are in the hospital caring for our patients who don't have the proper training, who aren't familiar with our equipment, and there's been a tragic death," said one nurse who participated in a Sunday vigil outside the hospital. A video showing highlights of the vigil is posted on the union's web page.
The hospital, however, said the fill-in nurses were all highly competent and experienced.
The hospital explained that it was contractually obligated to hire replacement nurses for a certain number of days, which was the reason for the lockout. Staff nurses can return to work Tuesday.
But Bolling blamed the patient's death on the California Nurses Association:
BECKEL: The idea that somebody would even suggest that this was because of a union strike -- they're out of their minds. OK, go ahead. You try to suggest it now.
BOLLING: In this case, it happened to be, because this person wasn't a new patient. It was a patient who had been receiving medication. The nurses went on strike, the replacement nurse went ahead and made a mistake, yeah. She made a mistake, or he made a mistake, and gave the patient the wrong medicine and they died. This is clearly a case of someone dying because of a union strike.
BOLLING: I'm telling you, this is a death that's on the hands of the unions.
The New York Times reported in November 2010 that a study analyzing harm from medical care found that 2.4 percent of hospital mistakes contribute to or cause a patient's death:
About 18 percent of patients were harmed by medical care, some more than once, and 63.1 percent of the injuries were judged to be preventable. Most of the problems were temporary and treatable, but some were serious, and a few -- 2.4 percent -- caused or contributed to a patient's death, the study found.
The Times further reported that medication errors "caused problems in 162 cases" of the more than 2,300 reviewed. The Times continued: "Computerized systems for ordering drugs can cut such mistakes by up to 80 percent, Dr. [Christopher] Landrigan said. But only 17 percent of hospitals have such systems."
While the Oakland, California, case is still under investigation, Paul Seligman, director of the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Pharmacoepidemiology and Statistical Science, has said that in "most cases, medication errors can't be blamed on a single person." From the FDA:
Since 1992, the Food and Drug Administration has received nearly 30,000 reports of medication errors. These are voluntary reports, so the number of medication errors that actually occur is thought to be much higher. There is no "typical" medication error, and health professionals, patients, and their families are all involved.
These and other medication errors reported to the FDA may stem from poor communication; misinterpreted handwriting; drug name confusion; confusing drug labels, labeling, and packaging; lack of employee knowledge; and lack of patient understanding about a drug's directions. "But it's important to recognize that such errors are due to multiple factors in a complex medical system," says Paul Seligman, M.D., director of the FDA's Office of Pharmacoepidemiology and Statistical Science. "In most cases, medication errors can't be blamed on a single person."