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Nurses say understaffing at Thornton hospital played a role in patient's COVID-19 related death

CDPHE cites Thornton hospital for patient's death
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Posted at 6:08 PM, Aug 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-31 23:36:08-04

THORNTON, Colo. — A COVID-19 patient died at North Suburban Medical Center in Thornton and nurses say it was because of understaffing at the hospital.

An investigation by our news partners at The Denver Post found some technicians are responsible for monitoring 40 to 60 patients a day.

In May, a technician noticed a pulse oximeter wasn’t working on a patient. That machine measures whether a person's blood has enough oxygen. When a pulse oximeter isn’t working, technicians are required to alert a nurse until the problem is fixed.

The machine needed a new battery but no one was available to change it. The technician notified staff the pulse oximeter wasn't working at 5:35 a.m., again at 6:12 a.m., but by 6:22 a.m., a code blue was called for the patient. The patient didn't survive.

The nurse told health inspectors that they had a “busy patient load.” That same nurse told the hospital that the patient died because the unit was "not staffed appropriately" and told inspectors no changes were implemented.

The technician was monitoring 47 other patients the day in question. That technician told inspectors it was normal to monitor 40 to 60 patients a day and that 50 patients was often “difficult and hectic.”

Citations by the health department usually do not result in penalties until the facility is repeatedly in violation.

In a statement, North Suburban Medical Center said:

"First and foremost, we extend our deepest sympathy and most sincere condolences to the family and loved ones. We worked with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) upon inspection on an action plan to address the issues. Our staffing, which is based on provider skill mix and patient acuity, is appropriate and consistent with national standards, and following a recent follow up visit by the CDPHE, we were found to be in compliance with State standards. While our pursuit of clinical excellence is a continual effort, we are proud of our caregivers whose dedication to patient care is the reason North Suburban Medical Center has been recognized for healthcare quality by organizations like the Leapfrog Group, Healthgrades and IBM Watson."