Michigan Hospital Allegedly Allowed Nurses to Administer Drugs Absent Physician’s Order

Image showing assorted pain medications in someones hands.

Fired Lansing Nurse Says He Was Scapegoated for Going by ‘Expectation’ of Administering Drugs Without Doctor’s Order. Nurses and Medical Facilities Alike Should Take Note of This

For a nurse to administer drugs at a hospital or healthcare facility, that nurse must have a valid physician’s order. But what happens if that facility has an unwritten, common practice of allowing nurses to give patients drugs as needed, without a doctor’s authorization? According to claims from an ex-nurse at a Lansing, Michigan-based hospital, someone could be scapegoated if caught — and that nurse says that scapegoat is him.

Despite his 2016 termination, and a 2017 settlement with the hospital, the nurse has faced a 2018 investigation from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). He also was required to complete a drug intervention stint that he says was never necessary, and although he still holds a nursing license, he believes it has been unfairly sullied.

For license healthcare providers such as nurses who administer drugs to patients, this is an unfortunate reminder that dispensing medication without a valid physician’s order is illegal. We at Chapman Law Group have worked with nurses and other licensed healthcare professionals who have been reprimanded, sanctioned, or had their license suspended for such actions.

Yet, hospitals as well as small- to mid-sized medical practices also need to be aware that they should not have unwritten procedures and policies that go against state law. These can lead to regulatory sanctions and lawsuits, and the exposure is high.

Do the Nurse Administering the Drugs and the Hospital Share Responsibility?

In a July 19, 2021, article in the Lansing State Journal, Chad Martinsen contends that he was terminated from his position in the Sparrow Hospital cardiac catheterization laboratory, following a patient’s bad reaction to fentanyl.

According to the story, “[i]t was commonplace in the cath lab to give patients drugs as needed. … Doctors were busy and expected nurses to have patients ready and sedated, and to keep them comfortable as they worked. If they didn’t, the physicians might become irritated with [the nurses].” The article also states that five current and former nurses and cath lab technologists at Sparrow attest to such a common practice.

Ronald W. Chapman II, chair of Chapman Law Group’s White Collar and Government Investigations practice group, told the LSJ that he’s noticed a trend of nurses and other mid-level staff being punished in similar circumstances.

Chapman added that, if Sparrow had unwritten policies for nurses to be administering drugs without a doctor’s order — a practice that deviates from state law and procedures — the hospital could face serious trouble with the federal government:

“If there was an environment at a hospital or facility that sort of required that conduct as a condition of keeping your job, then some of the responsibility for the conduct really does fall on the institution. Many nurses respect the opinion of doctors or physicians … they may think it’s OK. I have to imagine many people did not know what they were doing was potentially in violation of certain board rules and federal law.”

Don’t Leave Questionable, Unwritten Procedures Up to Chance — Let the Healthcare Lawyers at Chapman Law Group Advise You

If you are a nurse who is administering drugs to patients without a doctor’s order, you could face sanctions for nurse practice act violations, as well as license suspension from the Board of Nursing. By the same token, medical practices that knowingly violate state law for utilizing unwritten procedures, such as drug dispensing without physician authorization, are putting themselves at serious risk for liability.

At Chapman Law Group, our healthcare attorneys can advise you on what you as a healthcare provider or as a principal for a healthcare entity need to do on these matters. Contact us today to learn more about our services.

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