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Nurse Says Hospital Scapegoated Her for Death

LAS VEGAS (CN) - A neonatal nurse at Sunrise Children's Hospital claims in court that she was fired and scapegoated for the failure of catheters and the death of an infant in 2010.

Sharon Ochoa-Reyes sued Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center and four of its top executives, in Clark County Court.

Ochoa-Reyes claims the hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit "began experiencing a spike in failure rates" of intravenous catheter lines used to administer medication to infants from December 2009 to May 2010.

"At least 14" catheter lines "became separated in two, interrupting the flows of fluids through the device," the complaint states.

In late 2009, the unit "had been experiencing problems with their PICC [peripherally inserted central catheter] lines, including air embolism and finding air in the IV lines after being fully primed," according to the complaint.

"Sunrise staff investigated and met with manufacturer representatives, and determined that a change in tubing products to include the addition of a micron air eliminating filter and additional ports," the lawsuit states. "... (T)he new equipment was placed in use in late January, 2010."

Between February and May, "an additional 13 incidents of catheter failure occurred in the Unit, twelve involving PICC lines, and one involving an umbilical arterial catheter," the complaint states.

Ochoa-Reyes claims: "Sunrise did little in response to the spike in catheter failures. Although eight events occurred during these months, the broken tubing was saved in only three cases - the rest were discarded and presumably destroyed. In three cases, hospital required incident reports were not completed, and those that were completed in the remaining five cases had incomplete information."

Records indicate that supervisory staff believed the tubing issues to be caused by "line tension, pressure build-up and/or clotting, noting in internal communications that, 'We recognize that we have issued with our tubing and [sic] working hard to find the true cause ... We believe issue is with the adding of the small filter.'

"There is no evidence to suggest Sunrise made any attempt to contact representatives of the manufacturer of the PICC lines or other safety experts, and filed no reports with the FDA about the problems. The hospital continued to use the same PICC catheter lines despite the ongoing problems." (Brackets and ellipsis in complaint.)

Ochoa-Reyes claims that a 12th catheter failure was discovered on May 10, 2010, in which the PICC line separated "underneath an intact dressing. The full length of the broken line was inside the infant and was therefore unable to be retrieved by the nursing staff. X-ray confirmed that the proximal end of the line was in the baby's thigh and the distal end was curled in the atrium."

Ochoa-Reyes says the pediatric cardiologist "decided that retrieving the line could wait till morning," by which time "the full length of the broken line had migrated and was coiled in the baby's heart."

Another baby suffered from a broken PICC line on May 23, 2010, the complaint states.

"(O)nly after the events of May 10, 2010 and May 23, 2010 caused harm to patients did Sunrise take action on the problems that had been ongoing with catheter lines in the Unit since at least December 2009," the complaint states. "That course of action, however, was only designed to divert attention from its own failures by casting suspicion and blame, and making Sharon Ochoa-Reyes the scapegoat for its own failings, accusing her, without evidence, of intentionally severing catheter lines."

Ochoa-Reyes was removed from her work schedule and forced to talk with the hospital's attorneys.

"What she had no way of knowing is that Sunrise had already initiated a sham 'investigation' focused on finding a guilty party for what it would later claim were intentional acts - the cutting of catheter lines," according to the complaint. "Sharon was left off the work schedule and in limbo for weeks, with no information, until she was permanently terminated."

During its "sham investigation," the hospital contacted police and requested "that it conduct a criminal investigation of Sharon Ochoa-Reyes," the complaint states. "Sharon was subjected to repeated interrogation by ... detectives." She says she was asked to submit a polygraph twice, which she passed both times.

She seeks damages for defamation, libel, slander, wrongful termination, conspiracy, negligence and fraud.

She is represented by Marc Cook with Bailus Cook & Kelesis.

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