Does Closing Patient Privacy Curtain Breach the Standard of Care

I’m sure you are familiar with the importance of adhering to your nursing standard of care for patients.

As I have noted in previous a previous blog, your standard of care in a professional nursing malpractice case is based on applicable standards of practice such as the nurse practice act and position statements from your professional nursing organizations.

In a 2021 Louisiana appellate court case, the court articulated the requirement of proving that a standard of care was indeed breached.

Elements of the Case

In this case, the female patient was admitted to the medical center for treatment of a staph infection connected to her existing medical condition, scleroderma. When treated with antibiotics for the infection, acute renal failure resulted, and the patient required dialysis.

While on dialysis, the patient experienced seizures which required resuscitation. She was admitted to the ICU for further treatment, which included placing her on a ventilator, and her plan of care included “seizure precautions.”

On the patient’s first day off of the ventilator, she “[was] alert, talking, ate breakfast, and participated in a physical therapy session.” When she completed the therapy session, she asked an ICU nurse to close her privacy curtain so she could rest.

When a phlebotomist entered the patient’s room about 20 minutes after the curtain was closed, the patient was found unresponsive on the floor. A code blue was called, and the patient was re-intubated and placed back on the ventilator. Approximately 10 days later, the patient’s ventilator was removed, as she had no brain activity.

The cause of death was determined to be “anoxic brain injury…secondary to cardiac arrest, secondary to renal failure, and secondary to scleroderma.”

Eight months after her death, the patient’s siblings filed a malpractice case against the medical center alleging numerous failures on the part of the medical center’s staff in properly monitoring the patient, both physically and by telemetry, and responding to the late patient’s medical needs.

Medical Review Panel’s Finding

Consistent with state law, a medical review panel reviewed the complaint. The medical panel, composed of three expert physicians, “unanimously concluded” that there was no deviation from the standard of care by the medical center.

As to the nursing staff’s conduct, the panel found that the ICU nurses followed protocol regarding side rails and fall precautions. It further found that it was appropriate to honor the patient’s wishes to close the privacy curtain.

The panel’s additional findings indicated that the patient suffered many afflictions, including scleroderma, pulmonary hypertension, and methicillin resistant staph cellulitis.

The medical center filed a Summary Judgment Motion, stating that there was no medical expert testimony to support the siblings’ case. The siblings opposed the Summary Judgment Motion but did not identify a medical expert. Rather, their position was that the negligence against the medical center should be inferred.

They also raised the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur (“the thing speaks for itself”), arguing that the circumstances suggest that the fall would not have occurred but for the medical center’s negligence, that the medical center …read more

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