- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

Officials at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Gaithersburg say a hot line for people concerned about care received in the intensive care unit has netted 75 calls after a nurse was suspended during an investigation into claims she hastened the death of at least one patient.

Robert Jepson, a spokesman for the hospital, yesterday said the majority of the calls received so far have been general inquiries, but that the hospital would appoint someone to follow up on specific concerns.

“We encourage anybody who has a question, comment or concern to give us a call,” Mr. Jepson said.

Coleen M. Thompson, a nurse in the intensive care unit since May 2002, was suspended from the hospital with pay July 9 after another nurse in the 26-bed ICU told hospital administrators that a colleague had killed a critically ill patient a day earlier.

Reached by telephone yesterday, Mrs. Thompson denied any wrongdoing.

“Basically all I’m going to say is I’ve done nothing wrong,” she said.

The Maryland Board of Nursing suspended Mrs. Thompson’s nursing license in an emergency order Wednesday.

The state board said in its suspension order that Mrs. Thompson administered a dosage of medication to a female patient in excess of what the patient’s doctor prescribed, then let the patient die without doing anything to intervene, despite the patient’s fluctuating and dangerously low blood pressure.

The hospital described the lethal medical intervention as “unauthorized, inappropriate and unilateral action,” and the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office was informed of the situation.

The patient, a 63-year-old woman who has not been identified, was admitted to the hospital July 1 with respiratory failure, streptococcal pneumonia, chest pain, hypotension and septic shock. The woman died early on July 6 after being in Mrs. Thompson’s care for six hours during the overnight shift.

According to the order, Mrs. Thompson did not notify a physician or initiate any nursing interventions over the course of a 31/2-hour period. Mrs. Thompson intervened 13 minutes after the patient’s blood pressure dropped to 11 over 11.

The board said in its order that Mrs. Thompson’s “failure to conduct nursing interventions and contact a physician is evidence of a complete lack of professional responsibility and competency.”

The order said Mrs. Thompson’s nursing practice was a “danger to public health, safety and welfare.”

Yesterday, Mrs. Thompson said she has been besieged by phone calls and referred any further questions to her attorney, Philip Armstrong, who did not return phone calls yesterday afternoon.

The hospital set up a special information hot line — 800/296-6071 — that may be used by current or former patients and their families who have questions.

Roger Rishal, 55, of Rockville, whose brother died in the ICU on May 9, called the line yesterday morning.

Mr. Rishal said his brother John, 58, was being treated after open-heart surgery at a rehabilitation center blocks away when he collapsed and was transported to the hospital. He died the same day.

“They just said they were unable to revive him,” Mr. Rishal said yesterday.

He said he called the hot line number yesterday morning because he “wanted to see what they had to say about it.” But, he said, “I don’t know if he was in her [Mrs. Thompsons] care.”

Mr. Rishal said an operator asked him what his concerns were and said someone would be in touch.

One woman who called the line yesterday about the recent death of a relative in the hospital’s ICU said call takers offered her grief counseling when she asked about questionable care she believes her relative received.

“It wasn’t a hot line or whatever they pretend for it to be,” said the woman, who did not wish to be named. She said the call-taker took her name and telephone number and promised someone would get back to her.

Mr. Jepson said, “Employees are kind of shocked and saddened, [by the incident], but there’s a resolve to carry on,” and patient care continues at the hospital.

Montgomery County police said yesterday that investigators continue to work the case, and they have no idea when the investigation will be concluded.

“They’re being very methodical in what they’re doing so they’re not giving any timetable on when they will be finished,” said Officer Joyce Utter, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County police.

Officers began investigating the case July 10. Neither police nor hospital officials have named Mrs. Thompson as a suspect.

Shady Grove’s accreditation was downgraded to conditional in 1999 in the wake of a series of newspaper reports about the death of a patient in intensive care who had been left in a hallway on a gurney, an operation on the wrong hip of a patient and other medical mistakes.

Several senior managers either resigned or retired shortly afterward, and the hospital resumed operation under full accreditation in 2001.

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