Sunrise nurses reinstated; catheter disruptions probe continues

Because the police investigation into catheter disruptions at Sunrise Children’s Hospital — where one infant died as the result of a severed umbilical catheter — has gone on for so long, the state Nursing Board was forced to reactivate the licenses of the two nurses who are at the heart of the probe.

Debra Scott, executive director of the Nevada State Nursing Board, said Thursday that the board has no evidence at this point that registered nurses Jessica May Rice and Sharon Ochoa-Reyes had anything to do with the 14 incidents of disrupted catheters that Sunrise officials say began in February.

"We still haven’t got the documentation we need to move forward in this case," Scott said.

Bill Cassell, a police spokesman, said authorities do not have an expected end date for the investigation.

"It is very complicated and complex," he said.

The fact that the nurses have had their licenses reinstated "in no way impacts the police investigation," he said.

Attempts to reach Rice and Ochoa-Reyes on Thursday were unsuccessful.

Under state law, Scott said, the Nursing Board was able to suspend summarily the nurses for 45 days after the regulatory agency received notice on June 10 from law enforcement officials that each nurse was a "person of interest" in an "ongoing criminal investigation."

Nursing Board President Doreen Begley said the suspensions were handed down "in the interest of public health, safety and/or welfare."

After the 45-day summary suspension was up, the nurses had a right to a hearing on the evidence. But Scott said the nurses voluntarily chose to inactivate their licenses while the police investigation proceeded.

Earlier this week, Scott said, attorneys for the nurses approached the Nursing Board with a desire to get the nursing licenses back.

"We can’t hold a hearing because we don’t have the documents we need," Scott said. "And we can’t say no to their desire to get their licenses back without violating their due process rights. … This investigation has gone on quite a while."

Nursing Board records now show both nurses have active licenses.

Scott said she does not have enough information to make a judgment call on whether the nurses were unfairly accused or on whether the public would be at risk if the nurses go back to work in Nevada.

Ashlee Seymour, a Sunrise spokeswoman, said both nurses remain terminated by the hospital.

Nick Di Archangel, a spokesman for Service Employees International Union Local 1107, the union representing the nurses, said Thursday that the union was now "going to explore its options" in supporting the nurses.

The July death of 2-month-old Miowne Obote, whose catheter was severed in the Sunrise neonatal intensive care unit, was ruled a homicide in August by the Clark County coroner.

Another infant, who had emergency surgery to survive a catheter disruption, is now at home, hospital officials said.

The officials have never said what harm, if any, was caused to infants in the dozen other cases.

National safety officials told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in July that tubing misconnections could have played a role in injuries to infants at Sunrise.

"You can’t put diesel fuel in your gas tank, but you can inadvertently mix medication and nutrition for a baby through a tubing misconnection," Houston-based safety expert Debora Simmons said. "The medical industry is probably the only industry that designs things where anything can connect to anything."

Whether tubing misconnections played a role in what Sunrise officials announced in July were 14 cases of disrupted catheters is unknown.

Safety experts said they have never heard of a severed catheter resulting from a tubing misconnection.

It is not uncommon for nurses to be charged with felony neglect in tubing misconnection cases.

In 2006, a Wisconsin nurse who mistakenly put a spinal anesthetic in a vein was charged with felony neglect but pleaded no contest to misdemeanors as part of a plea bargain.

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@review or 702-387-2908.

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