A federal arbitrator has ruled that a Sunrise Children's Hospital nurse fired in connection with a 2010 baby death in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit should be reinstated with back pay, a spokesman for the nurse's union said Thursday.
Nick Di Archangel, communications director for Service Employees International Union Nevada, said the arbitrator ruled that Jessica May Rice should "be made whole as though nothing had happened."
Rice and another fired nurse, Sharon Ochoa-Reyes, had been called persons of interest by the Metropolitan Police Department in an criminal investigation into "intentional patient harm."
No criminal charges have been filed. Police refused to reply Thursday to questions about whether their investigation continues into how catheters came apart in the intensive care unit for children. Catheters are used to draw blood and deliver medications and nutrition.
The July 2, 2010, death of 2-month-old Miowne Obote, whose catheter was severed, was ruled a homicide in August 2010 by the Clark County coroner.
Dan Davidson, a Sunrise spokesman, said in a statement that the hospital continues "to assist as Metro conducts its investigation."
Davidson also wrote that "we respect the arbitration process and have reviewed the findings of the arbitrator. We also respect the confidentiality of personnel matters and keep them private."
Neither Rice nor Ochoa-Reyes was available for comment Thursday. An arbitrator's ruling on Ochoa-Reyes' firing is expected in February.
Kathleen Murphy Jones, an attorney for Rice, would not comment on the arbitrator's ruling other than to send an email saying she was "pleased" with the arbitration results.
RULING DEEPENS MYSTERY
The Dec. 19 ruling on Rice, which came from the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, a government agency, is final and binding.
It only deepens the mystery of what actually happened in the hospital's intensive care unit for children. Another child barely survived catheter failure there after emergency surgery.
In July 2010, Sunrise officials, in a statement that managed to raise more questions than provide answers, said they had asked Las Vegas police to investigate 14 incidents of "disrupted catheters" that tracked back to February of the same year. They said that one child needed emergency surgery and another was in critical condition: Baby Obote later died.
In the weeks that followed, the Nevada State Board of Nursing summarily suspended Ochoa-Reyes' and Rice's licenses after law enforcement authorities told the regulatory agency that each nurse was a "person of interest" in a criminal investigation into "intentional patient harm." Sunrise officials fired them.
As criminologists speculated as to whether the pair of nurses could be angels of death, nurses who say they kill patients out of mercy, authorities refused to say what evidence connected the nurses to "intentional patient harm," a question that remains unanswered to this day.
And then in September 2010, the mystery surrounding what happened at Sunrise took another turn.
The Nursing Board, ruling that there was no evidence that the nurses did anything wrong, reinstated the licenses of the nurses. Sunrise officials, however, refused to rehire them.
NURSES REPORTED FAILURES
Ochoa-Reyes told the Review-Journal in November 2010 that nurses in the neonatal unit had been having problems with catheters breaking for months.
"Even though nurses reported the product failures, the hospital administration basically paid no real attention to it until babies got hurt," she said.
Sunrise records subpoenaed by the Nursing Board, which were obtained by the Review-Journal, raised the question of whether product failure was behind the "disrupted catheters," something the hospital's own forensic expert admits he never ruled out.
"They (Sunrise administrators) didn't ask me to test for product failures," said W. Don Bunn, a failure analysis expert for Oklahoma-based Sherry Laboratories who was hired by the Las Vegas hospital. "They only asked me to test to see if the catheters could have been cut. I would have had to do more tests to see if there could have been product failure."
Bunn, whose test results on seven catheters were the only ones included in the subpoenaed records, said he was surprised the hospital didn't want to know whether there had been product failure. "That's what I'm usually asked to do."
On six catheters he was able to simulate cuts he saw in photos of broken Sunrise catheters by using either scissors or razor blades. He wasn't able to simulate a cut on a seventh catheter.
Regardless of what he found in those tests, Dunn said, he could not rule out product failure.
What Bunn had to say infuriated Rice's attorney, Kathleen Murphy Jones, at the time.
"It's outrageous that Sunrise didn't do a product failure test the first thing," she said. "Why put everybody through this -- the nurses, the community, parents of children at Sunrise -- until you know what you're talking about."
A physician who worked inside the neonatal unit wondered the same thing. "You would think that is something they would do."
ATTORNEY ALLEGES HOSPITAL COVER-UP
George Kelesis, an attorney for Ochoa-Reyes, said the hospital pointed the finger at the nurses to cover up problems the hospital has long had and to protect the institution from financial liability.
County Coroner Mike Murphy said Bunn's determinations regarding simulated cuts played a key role in his office's ruling that baby Obote's death was a homicide. His office did not do product tests of its own. Murphy said new information about the catheter incidents could change the homicide ruling to an accident.
The results of the tests done on Sunrise catheter lines at a federal laboratory, which were requested by Las Vegas police, have not made public.
Union spokesman Archangel said the stress put on the nurses -- neither could find a job working with babies -- "has had to be enormous."
In late 2010, Ochoa-Reyes, with tears streaming down her face, said just how difficult her life had become.
"I can't sleep anymore," she cried. "It's so hard to have people thinking I'm a monster, that I could hurt little babies."
Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@review journal.com or 702-387-2908.