It’s hard to forgive someone who hurts your child. Last Sunday’s article in the Los Angeles Times (“Criminal Past No Bar to Nursing”) brought back painful memories of our own experiences with a particular nurse and the California Board of Registered Nursing.
The point of the Times article, researched by Tracy Weber and Charles Ornstein of Pro Publica ( www.propublica.org), is that however serious the complaint, the state nursing board is slow to investigate, slow to act and prone to grant “probation,” thereby allowing the nurse to keep his or her license.
Our brush with the agency began in late March 2004, when our 23-year-old son was admitted to the Norris Cancer Hospital while undergoing chemotherapy. Part of his story is now public record, available online at the California Board of Registered Nursing at http://www.rn.ca.gov/, under nursing license 489403.
I remember Andrew saying, “Mom, the day shift will be here in a couple of hours. I’ll be OK.” At 6:30 a.m., the good nurses on the day shift rushed him to the ICU, where he died within 24 hours. After he died, our office started receiving calls from nurses who worked at the hospital. They complained about the hospital and this particular nurse. Some of the calls were anonymous. Some of the calls were not. It was painful. Andrew wasn’t even buried yet and I was being dragged into ongoing dispute.
On one hand, people at the cancer center, good people, had helped him in his fight against cancer. On the other hand, the actions by this nurse were beyond abysmal. After much thought and prayer, we decided on a course of action. We began with a donation and by designating Norris for donations in Andrew’s memory. Then, we told the doctors and administrators that they needed to do something about the inpatient care, including this nurse. We told them that we wanted to help.
We encountered a more positive response in the first instance than in the second. As a result, we took the next step. I contacted state nursing board. Telephone. E-mail. Written correspondence. These efforts were extensive, personally painful and continued throughout the summer of 2004. A state investigator came and took our statements.
Over a year passed. Finally, on Nov. 28, 2005, the attorney general filed an accusation with the nursing board. That’s when we learned that the nurse had used five different names. Two more years passed. In the summer of 2007, we learned the nurse was no longer working at Norris. She worked closer to home, as a registered nurse with charges pending, at a Pasadena hospital.
In November 2007, we received a call from a deputy attorney general. The nurse had admitted some of the allegations in the accusation. A settlement had been reached. Our testimony was not needed. The nurse would be placed on probation and allowed to continue working as a registered nurse. The settlement order is also online at http://www.rn.ca.gov/, under license number 489403.
I don’t know if she still works in Pasadena. I don’t know what name she uses. She has never apologized or asked for forgiveness. My friend, Rolf Gompertz, a writer and a survivor, says that it is not our place to forgive on behalf of the dead. Instead, he says, we can transform our sorrow into good deeds to repair the world. Like being a better lawyer. Or speaking out. Even better, to find a cure.
ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a local resident and a trial attorney with the Law Offices of Torres & Brenner in Pasadena.