PORTLAND, Maine (Legal Newsline) – The Maine Supreme Court recently refused to uphold a two-year suspension against a nurse who was accused of professional misconduct for releasing a disoriented, sparsely dressed patient into a snowstorm in 2008. The patient died just feet from the hospital.
The state’s high court on Feb. 14 affirmed a trial court’s ruling that nurse, John Zablotny, committed professional misconduct by releasing a patient into a blizzard.
Nevertheless, given the circumstances, the court ruled that a 90-day suspension was more appropriate for Zablotny than the two-year license revocation efforts made by the Main State Board of Nurses.
The day after the patient was discharged, police found his body buried beneath a foot of snow approximately 380 feet from the entrance of Down East Community Hospital in Machias. The patient, who was wearing jeans, a button-down shirt, and moccasin-style slippers, was sent out in blizzard-like conditions and died of hypothermia and combined opiate toxicity.
The judge found that Zablotny did not provide adequate and complete information about the risks of leaving the hospital on Jan. 1, 2008, during an “old-fashioned Nor’Easter.”
The court further found, however, that the state board had failed to prove that Zablotny had violated any standards of care for “failing to fully inform the on-call physician of all the conditions under which the patient was seeking to be discharged and failing to immediately notify law enforcement or the patient’s emergency contact of his departure,” according to the ruling.
Court records state that when Zablotny informed the on-call physician that the patient wanted to be released, he failed to tell the doctor what the patient was wearing and that he intended to walk to a friend’s house.
The patient was released at 8:20 p.m. About 30 minutes later, Zablotny found the day shift nurse’s daily report, which had not been properly placed in the patient’s chart and included information about the patient making suicidal statements, according to court records.
After learning this new information, Zablotny made several phone calls. He called the patient’s emergency contact, his wife. She asked that Zablotny call police, and he called the Machais Police Department.
The high court based its decision on the extensive contacts that were made with the patient during the day shift, the information that was not available to Zablotny when he allowed the patient to leave, including the patient’s suicidal statements made during the day, and the call to the Machias Police Department shortly after Zablotny became aware of the important information in the misplaced “daily” report.
Other determining factors include the state board and its expert’s concessions that Zablotny lacked any authority — statutory or otherwise — to prevent the patient from leaving, and the hospital’s discharge policy, which did not require a nurse to contact anyone other than the attending physician. In this case, the on-call physician said “let him go” to Zablotny, according to court records.