UMC's emergency room chief chides commissioner

What Dr. Dale Carrison, head of emergency room services at University Medical Center, knows is this: When Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani held a Feb. 19 meeting with staff in an ER break room, patient safety was compromised.

"There was only one nurse on duty for 12 patients, when there should have at least been three," he said Wednesday, a day after his heated exchange with Giunchigliani during a commission meeting. "The commissioner should have been clear with supervisors that she only wanted to talk with staff on break and held the meeting away from the ER."

Giunchigliani, however, denies that she had anything to do with compromising patient safety.

"Whoever wanted to could just wander in," she said. "The union had set up this meeting."

The simmering feud between ER management and Giunchigliani that grew out of the break room meeting already had compelled ER nurse manager Evelyn Lundell to write a letter of complaint about compromised patient safety to County Manager Virginia Valentine, and a subsequent letter seeking whistle-blower protection. Giunchigliani, meanwhile, had written a letter to University Medical Center CEO Kathy Silver complaining that Lundell was rude to nurses.

And on Wednesday, former higher education chancellor Jim Rogers fired off a letter to the commission chairman, warning that Giunchigliani's conduct could jeopardize an effort to find top-tier hospitals to partner with UMC.

In her letter of complaint on Feb. 24, Lundell charged that Giunchigliani did not consult the management of the emergency department before holding her meeting:

"These actions to remove staff from the workplace jeopardized patient care and could have caused substantial and specific danger to the health and safety of our patients and hospital."

Lundell said that given what happened on "November 30, 2009," UMC must emphasize public safety.

It was on that day more than three months ago that a 25-year-old pregnant Las Vegas woman didn't receive help in the ER despite spending six hours there in distress.

Several hours after they arrived at UMC, Roshunda Abney and her fiance gave up hope of being seen. She eventually went home and gave breech birth to a baby girl, who died. Abney said she did not realize she was pregnant.

Lundell wrote a subsequent letter Feb. 26 in which she said she would like to invoke her whistle-blower protection. Under state law, an employer cannot discharge an employee if a complaint is filed by the employee regarding a violation of health and safety statutes.

On Wednesday, Giunchigliani said she would never do anything to compromise patient safety.

In her letter to Silver, the commissioner, who is a strong supporter of unions, noted that Lundell behaved in a manner that was "rude and dismissive" to the nurses and "said something to the effect that she didn't want them in there (the meeting) and had concerns about the coverage."

Giunchigliani acknowledged in her letter that, shocked and angry, she asked after Lundell left the meeting, "Who the F was that?"

At Tuesday's commission meeting, Giunchigliani heatedly told both Silver and Carrison that the hospital's managers were rude to her when she was at UMC inquiring about personnel changes, including the planned layoff of 16 certified nursing assistants in the ER.

That made Carrison bristle about the commissioner's "anti-management" stance.

He said Wednesday that "a manager went in that meeting room to get nurses back on the floor, to make sure patient safety wasn't compromised, and the commissioner didn't like that."

Tuesday's outburst caught the attention of former chancellor Rogers, who has volunteered to head up an effort to make UMC financially solvent by finding top-tier medical organizations to partner with the hospital.

In a Wednesday letter to Commission Chairman Rory Reid, Rogers wrote: "The outrageous and destructive conduct of Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani ... will surely have a chilling effect on any organization that had an interest in joint venturing with UMC."

He went on to say that the County Commission should appoint an interim UMC board that moves the hospital forward "free of influence of outside activities, because those outside activities and influences interfere with the operation of UMC."

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at or 702-387-2908.