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State will investigate nurses’ allegations of understaffing at MountainView Hospital

State health officials say they will investigate nurses’ allegations that understaffing at MountainView Hospital has caused patients to die, fall, suffer broken bones and sit in their excrement and urine for lengthy periods of time.

The charges by nurses Lenore Garlinghouse, 49, and Sharon Quantz, 61, first surfaced in Monday’s Review-Journal.

“We have identified that as a complaint that will be investigated,” Marla McDade Williams, a deputy administrator with the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health, said Friday. She did not give a timetable for when the probe would start or end.

Jennifer McDonnell, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said Friday that the bureau has yet to contact the hospital about the probe. She has said that the allegations by nurses are false and “complete misinformation.”

Williams, who was also interviewed earlier in the week, said a team of investigators will conduct interviews and check schedules and time cards in an effort to see if the hospital’s staffing plan was properly followed.

She said what is always a challenge for investigators checking out complaints made by staffers is the documentation concerning alleged incidents that occur at the 1,200 hospital and other facilities regulated by the bureau. Too often, she said, the complaints are general.

Both Quantz and Garlinghouse said that before speaking to the Review-Journal, they and other nurses had registered specific complaints about understaffing problems through the hospital’s chain of command.

Lisa Morowitz, a representative for National Nurses United, the union representing MountainView nurses, said Friday she hopes state investigators speak with direct-care nurses as well as nursing management. She said she has been told that in the past discussions were held only with management when complaints were made.

Williams said direct-care nurses will be interviewed.

Quantz, an oncology nurse with 41 years of experience, said the staffing plan hammered out three years ago between the hospital and the union is often ignored. She said it calls for one nurse for two patients in the intensive care unit and and one nurse for six patients in areas on a “med/surg” floor — areas where patients underwent surgery or have a serious medical condition.

McDonnell refused to say if the details of the staffing plan revealed by Quantz were correct. She said in an email that hospital officials are “constantly evaluating staffing levels.”

Williams said she has the MountainView staffing plan that must be filed with the state, but argued that it isn’t public record.

Quantz said med/surg nurses often have to care for as many as nine patients spread out over two hallways of the hospital and ICU nurses frequently must try to deal with three critically ill patients as once.

“There have been patient falls and near misses on medication errors by nurses trying to do too much,” Quantz said. “A patient can put his light on that he need to go to the bathroom and when you can’t get there in time he tries to get up and go himself. It can be dangerous. I remember patients breaking bones that way.”

She said she can also remember chemotherapy patients weakened by their medication suffering head injuries that way.

Garlinghouse said supervisors have been notified of the dangers facing patients but supervisors do not take corrective action. She said she has witnessed patients falling when staff couldn’t get to them in a timely fashion.

Nursing in an area that she defines as a high risk for falls, Garlinghouse said her patients often have dementia.

Because of understaffing, she said those patients fall and are “lying in urine and feces for an unreasonable amount of time.”

An ICU employee, she said, told her that “patients have died because of not have the correct staffing.”

Paul Harasim is the medical writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His column appears Mondays. Harasim can be reached at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.

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