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Nurse's Lawsuit Claims Hospital Tried to Cover up Deadly MRSA Outbreak

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

According to a scathing Reuters investigation, tens of thousands of infection-related deaths are going unrecorded or uncounted, sometimes due to poor state and federal tracking programs and other times in an effort to mask the true cause of death. One mother was told her newborn died because of sepsis due to prematurity, when in fact her son was the fourth infant in the hospital's neonatal ward to contract methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, otherwise known as MRSA.

And one New Jersey nurse claims she was fired in retaliation for revealing hospital deficiencies in dealing with a staph infection outbreak its own infant intensive care unit. As superbug outbreaks become more and more common, what are hospitals' medical obligations to prevent and respond to such outbreaks, and what rights do hospital employees have?

MRSA Mishandling

Catherine Tanksley-Bowe, a former nurse at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey, claims the hospital failed to follow state guidelines designed to prevent a MRSA outbreak from spreading in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, last July. The New Jersey Department of Health confirmed the outbreak, saying two of the eight infants were infected died. When the state inspected Cooper following the incident, it did find "several infection control deficiencies."

Tanksley-Bowe's lawsuit claims she told the hospital's administrator and environmental service representative on August 8 that hospital staff weren't following necessary steps to prevent cross-contamination, nor were they properly cleaning supplies. Tanksley-Bowe also says she advised Cooper's Chief of Pediatrics that the hospital should notify nearby hospitals and stop accepting babies into its intensive care unit, but the hospital took neither step. She was fired on August 11, she believes, for complaining about the hospital's mishandling of the MRSA outbreak.

Hospital Liability

Hospitals can be liable for employee malpractice that injures a patient, and they are also responsible for protecting their own staff. While as employers hospitals generally have the right to fire employees for any reason or no reason at all, they may not fire employees for illegal reasons, one of which may be because the employee reported wrongdoing on the part of the employer.

The MRSA-related deaths at Cooper University Hospital may never have come to light without Tanksley-Bowe's lawsuit, but whether she will win her wrongful termination lawsuit remains to be seen.

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