A Miami hospital is facing a serious drug error lawsuit after a staff nurse gave an elderly man the wrong medication.
79-year-old Richard Smith was being treated for kidney disease at North Shore Medical Center in Miami. After he reported shortness of breath during a dialysis treatment, he was admitted to the ICU.
On July 30, 2010, Smith was prescribed a course of antacids to combat an upset stomach. When Smith’s son Marc arrived later that morning and found find him unconscious and hooked to a respirator, the nurse explained that Richard Smith had experienced a cardiac arrest.
The doctor explained to Marc Smith that Richard’s heart stopped after the nurse administered the wrong medication. Instead of an antacid, the nurse gave him pancuronium—a drug used during intubations to relax muscles. A powerful paralytic, pancuronium is also used in high doses to administer lethal injections.
Thirty minutes after the error, Richard Smith was found unconscious with no pulse. The doctors were able to restart his heart, but the loss of oxygen left him brain dead, and he remained in a coma until his death a month later.
According to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, there are a number of safeguards in place to prevent these errors—and Smith’s nurse would have had to ignore them in order to make a fatal mistake.
The nurse had said that the mistake occurred because the antacid and the paralytic had similar packaging, and he grabbed the wrong one. Per regulations, nurses are required to read medication labels, scan the package for dosage instructions, and match the patient ID to the medication. The nurse did not take any of these steps.
Although the hospital has removed pancuronium from nursing areas except the operating rooms, the nurse under investigation has not been suspended and is still working in the same unit where the error occurred.
Our condolences are extended to the Smith Family as they cope with the loss of their husband and father.