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Friday, December 07, 2012

How did Myrtle Beach nurse move from potential civil sanctions into criminal charges?

Roughly 100,000 people are killed in hospitals every year because of medical mistakes

Most of them don't make headlines or trigger malpractice lawsuits. So that's what intrigued me about the Myrtle Beach nurse who has been charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature for her actions that may have contributed to the death of a patient, local radio personality Bill Norman, who was in the hospital after having suffered from a massive stroke.

Police said the nurse, 53-year-old Janet Kupka, gave him too much medication, as much as 5 times too much of morphine, as well as other medication shortly before he died in a bed at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center.

But even if that is true - and a witness said she saw Kupka do such things - what elevates that from an incident that could lead to a wrongful death lawsuit into a criminal act? I have no opinion either way - because I clearly don't know all the facts - but the story jumped out at me because most of these things seem to not rise to such a level. Also, the nurse was charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature and not something closer to murder or manslaughter, which likely means it will be hard to prove that she intended to kill the patient. But if she didn't intend to, why the leap from the civil to the criminal side of the court system?

Given that a witness alerted Grand Strand officials and they alerted multiple authorities, the family would probably be on firm ground to seek a settlement. It just seems strange, though, that a nurse who apparently didn't have a history of criminal or disciplinary problems would one day decide to take a patient's life.

A medical mistake that leads to a death is tragic and needs to be investigated and compensated in appropriate ways, and an intentional act must also be met with real consequences. I just don't know how we can be certain when it is one or the other.


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