Nurse's ex-colleague says felony charge too severe

  1. A former teacher and colleague of nurse Julie Thao says that the medication error that killed a teenager giving birth at St. Mary's hospital last summer does not warrant the felony charges against her.

    Retired registered nurse Mickie Schmudlach said Friday that her former student is "exceptionally bright" and that she displayed "caring and compassion" during the five years the two spent working together in St. Mary's delivery room.

    "She's not an ordinary nurse; she's an extraordinary nurse," Schmudlach said of Thao, who faces up to a $25,000 fine, three years in prison and three years of extended supervision if convicted.

    The state Department of Justice defends its charge - which has been widely attacked by nurses organizations and medical groups - by saying that multiple errors lead to the death.

    But Schmudlach said that the criminal case does not accurately reflect the realities of the medical field.

    "It's all being talked about by people who've never delivered in a labor room," she said.

    After Schmudlach taught Thao at MATC, she said the two registered nurses worked together for roughly five years prior to 2000 in St. Mary's delivery rooms. Schmudlach said the conditions are often dimly lit, there can be many people in the room and unexpected needs can drive long shifts.

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  3. by   UM Review RN
    All I can say is that once again, nurses are the scapegoats.

    An error that a nurse makes kills someone but the fatal error that a doc makes hardly makes the evening news....

    A nurse makes an error and that nurse is blackballed by her own community; a doc makes an error and his colleagues help him cover it up, smooth it over, and he keeps practicing.

    I'll have to get out of nursing altogether if criminal charges become the trend.
  4. by   Jolie
    I am an RN with 11 yesrs of NICU and L&D experience. I have been home for 8 years with my children and am considering taking a refresher and returning to practice. Stories like this make my blood run cold, and cause me to seriously question re-entering the nursing profession.

    The death of this patient was a terrible tragedy, and some sort of civil compensation is undoubetdly due her family. I would also support a BON investigation of the nurse's practice, as well as a State Board of Health investigation of the hospital's practices. But unless there is evidence of willful and deliberate misconduct on the nurse's part, I simply don't see the justification for criminal charges.

    As we all know, these types of incidents are usually the end result of a long line of systems errors, which is why a BOH investigation of the entire hospital is in order. I suspect that the prosecuter's decision to file criminal charges against only the nurse has more to do with his desire for face time on the news than protecting the public safety. Revoking or restricting this nurse's license is the maximum that is necessary to protect the public safety (and I'm not certain even that is necessary). Filing criminal charges is beyond the pale, and serves only himself.
  5. by   zin2363

    We need you out here. I can tell by your words and wisdom that you would be an assett to our profession. Come back. Criminal charges against a nurse,doctor or any health care professional for making a mistake is just not right. The hell that Julie must feel is more punishment then any charges the state has filed. These charges will benefit no one, but will most certainly harm many. Not only are we as nurses afraid from this, imagine the fear our patients have. As a nurse practicing or home caring for your children ( one of the most important jobs you will ever have by the way) you have to speak out against this. This could be any one of us. Email the attorney general's office. Write letters. Speak out against this.
  6. by   fins
    You may have just seen the last self-reported medication error in Wisconsin. This is going to hurt patients, because people are going to cover up their mistakes. Sentinal events won't get reported because people will be afraid of criminal charges. System problems won't be fixed.

    That DA is an idiot.
  7. by   LDJRN
    Quote from angie o'plasty, rn
    a nurse makes an error and that nurse is blackballed by her own community; a doc makes an error and his colleagues help him cover it up, smooth it over, and he keeps practicing.
    i think this is mostly due to the predominate sex in each of these areas of health care. you know? women can be so back-biting.
  8. by   Jolie
    Quote from ldjrn
    i think this is mostly due to the predominate sex in each of these areas of health care. you know? women can be so back-biting.

    often true, but i don't think that is the case here. her colleague is speaking up in her defense. it is an over-zealous da who is trying to destroy her.
  9. by   UM Review RN
    Often true, but I don't think that is the case here. Her colleague is speaking up in her defense. It is an over-zealous DA who is trying to destroy her.
    Please refer to this thread on the same topic.
  10. by   Jolie
    Quote from Angie O'Plasty, RN
    Please refer to this thread on the same topic.

    Thanks for pointing me there. I hadn't read those comments. How chilling that a member of our own profession is so eager to hang a colleague based on information from a newspaper article.

    While I would never attempt to defend willful or deliberate misconduct, I think it is very short-sighted of anyone to be so terribly judgemental of another's errors in judgement and/or practice, especially based on limited information. There but for the grace of God go all of us.
  11. by   ICRN2008
    My guess would be that this is our drunken attorney general trying to get some good press for herself before she gets booted out of office. As of yesterday Wisconsin voters have elected a new attorney general, so maybe things will change?

    This hospital has a wonderful reputation, and based on the glowing review by her former instructor this nurse was more than competent.

    I think that there needs to be more examination of the processes that lead to this incident, rather than punishing the nurse. If it hadn't happened to her, it would have happened to someone else.

    There is supposedly a big push right now from the IOM and others to get away from punitive actions towards health care professionals following errors. Apparently the Wisconsin Dept. of Justice hasn't gotten the message.
  12. by   mustanggirl
    If you go to and click on the link for criminal actions against Madison nurse, there is information for who to write letters to politically. There is also information if you want to send support or give monetary support for this nurse to help pay for her legal fees and day to day needs.
  13. by   TrudyRN
    It sounds like Julie was a great nurse. I am wondering, though, why she didn't scan the bar-coded med bag or at least read the label. She might have been exhausted, as she'd worked 16 hours, been off 8, and was now back for another 8 (and toward the end of that shift, at that). It wasn't mandatory OT, though, apparently.

    She had a child out of wedlock, as Jasmine was doing. While quite common, it rubs Puritanical me the wrong way. Maybe I'm just too old and this old dog is having a hard time accepting today's relaxed (decayed) morals but that's my view, right, wrong, whatever. It has nothing to do with this med error, it just is something I read about her on the web.

    Also, she has 2 previous convictions for shoplifting. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God, I know, myself certainly included. Jesus has paid for the sins of us all, thank Him most wholeheartedly. It's just another thing that the media has printed about Julie and, of course, it nags at me and makes me wonder who she really is, what she's really like. Human, I guess.

    Her attorneys say she always received the highest evals at work, was a hard worker, sought to empower her patients in L&D, and raised her 4 sons basically alone after she and her husband divorced because he was repressing her as a woman in their marriage.

    I really am not at all sure that criminal charges should be pressed, despite whatever human shortcomings she has. Her error was just that - an error. I pray she comes out of this without jail time.

    This case is a good reminder to always, no matter what, follow policy and remember the basics we've been taught.

    Oh, one more thing - I wish the deceased weren't also a mom out of wedlock.

    I know, I know, I'm terrible.
  14. by   dnnc52
    Sometimes justice just don't prevail in hospital politics
    Last edit by dnnc52 on Nov 3, '07