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$1.5 million verdict against Geisinger for student dismissed from CRNA program

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RiskManager

Specializes in Healthcare risk management and liability.

Interesting that the jury found that if the school had followed due process, the student still would have been dismissed from the program. Also of note is that the student later decided to submit to the drug test after the passage of time, which one could argue would make the drug test useless with clearance of any substances in her system and I suspect a CRNA student would know this. In these diversion cases in which I have been involved, our provider and staff contracts provide that we can do drug testing at any time upon reasonable suspicion, and refusal to do the test right then and there is grounds for dismissal.

I wonder if the plaintiff found another CRNA training program to take her, and if so, if she has found employment as a CRNA.

In these diversion cases in which I have been involved, our provider and staff contracts provide that we can do drug testing at any time upon reasonable suspicion, and refusal to do the test right then and there is grounds for dismissal.

This has been the policy everywhere I've worked over the years, also. I, too, found it odd (surprising) that the jury found that she was appropriately dismissed from the program but awarded such significant damages "just" for the failure to follow "due process" (whatever that would have been, exactly, under these circumstances). She must have had a really sharp attorney (and I will be nice and not speculate about the jury members :)).

What kind of medical professional gets tagged for drug testing and considers it reasonable to refuse the test because she wants to go home and talk to her parents, and then come back later and offer to do the test (when it's basically meaningless)? I particularly like the "talking to the parents" part. If we were talking about a high school student, maybe -- but every nursing graduate student is, by definition, an independent, responsible adult. I would never have had the nerve to suggest that I needed time to "talk to my parents" about any decision even in my original pre-licensure nursing program, let alone grad school.

I would guess (hope) that, after this fiasco and the related publicity, she'll be hard pressed to find another school interested in taking a chance on her.

akulahawkRN, ADN, RN, EMT-P

Specializes in Emergency Department. Has 6 years experience.

Interesting that the jury found that if the school had followed due process, the student still would have been dismissed from the program. Also of note is that the student later decided to submit to the drug test after the passage of time, which one could argue would make the drug test useless with clearance of any substances in her system and I suspect a CRNA student would know this. In these diversion cases in which I have been involved, our provider and staff contracts provide that we can do drug testing at any time upon reasonable suspicion, and refusal to do the test right then and there is grounds for dismissal.

I wonder if the plaintiff found another CRNA training program to take her, and if so, if she has found employment as a CRNA.

My nursing program also had a drug test policy that was very similar to what you listed here. We were tested upon entry to the program and we could be retested at any time and refusal to take the test would be grounds for dismissal. To me, it sounds like that school would've been without liability and the jury would not have returned their verdict had the school followed its disciplinary program and subsequent appeals etc.

I think the take away from this is that if you have a formal disciplinary program, it needs to be followed each and every time or you might end up being in the same position of having to pay damages for failure to follow your own process.

RiskManager

Specializes in Healthcare risk management and liability.

I think the take away from this is that if you have a formal disciplinary program, it needs to be followed each and every time or you might end up being in the same position of having to pay damages for failure to follow your own process.

This is very much spot on. The other issue, when I have dealt with these cases, is if given a choice between erring on the side of the employee rights of an employee suspected of impairment at work vs. patient safety, I will choose the course that maximizes patient safety every single time.

From a liability standpoint, the reality is that a lawsuit against me for wrongful termination is going to be much much cheaper and more difficult for the plaintiff to win than a lawsuit against me for a patient death or profound permanent neurological deficit due to an impaired anesthesia employee that I knew or suspected about but took no action to limit their practice. Not to mention the whole sleeping at night because I did the right thing for the patients.

subee, MSN, CRNA

Specializes in CRNA, Finally retired. Has 49 years experience.

We can only hope that Geisinger appeals the damages. Regardless if protocol, this woman did the damage to herself by not complying. She should certainly be reported to the Pa. diversion program for an investigation since it sounds like suspicions were reasonable and the cause of her behavior might include a diagnosis of dependency or other psychiatric diagnosis.

MunoRN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care. Has 10 years experience.

I have no idea why this would be worth $1.5 million, but I'm not particularly surprised by the verdict itself. One thing nursing program that operate at public schools need to be keenly aware of is that they cannot directly require a student to submit to a drug test without abiding by the requirements of the 4th amendment. A hospital, even a publicly operated one, does not and can require it's employees which includes nursing students to submit to a drug test without having to obtain a warrant. If some sort of representative from the hospital had directed the student to take a drug test then all would be fine, but since it was technically an official from the school and not the hospital who ordered the test they violated the students rights.

Appeals can take years. I hope they do.

klone, MSN, RN

Specializes in Women's Health/OB Leadership. Has 15 years experience.

If some sort of representative from the hospital had directed the student to take a drug test then all would be fine, but since it was technically an official from the school and not the hospital who ordered the test they violated the students rights.

But it was the hospital that was sued, not the school. The hospital has to pay the $1.5 million.