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If a patient admitted to the hospital is accompanied by a minor child, what is the nurse's versus the hospital's liability for the child?

Friday July 11, 2014
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Dear Nancy,

If a patient admitted to the hospital is accompanied by a minor child, what is the nurse's versus the hospital's liability for the child? I always request the patient arrange for somebody to pick up the child, or at least have another adult present who can take responsibility for the child, but occasionally it is not possible. The most recent incident involved a man having an appendectomy, and his 9-year-old was left in the patient's room on the med/surg unit during the surgery. What if the child wandered out of the hospital or had a nut allergy and we fed him nuts? What if he is a Type 1 diabetic? It's an awkward situation for the nurse.

Moria



Dear Nancy replies:

Dear Moria:

The situation you raise in your question is indeed a concern. No minor should be left alone in a hospital setting, or any other setting for that manner, without an adult present. It sounds as though you try to resolve the situation when you are faced with it, but, as you said, sometimes the resolutions do not work out.

The facility should have a policy concerning any unaccompanied minors in its hospital, because certainly it would face liability if there were an injury or death to the minor. An employee, such as yourself, also might be named in such a suit, since you are an employee, but your potential liability would be mitigated by your attempts to rectify the situation within the authority/power you have to do so.

This issue should be brought to the attention of the CNO and risk manager so a policy is put into place before something untoward occurs.

Preventing a problem with patients, families and visitors before it arises is the essence of risk management. It also should be the focus of the CNO and the practice of safe nursing within the facility.


Cordially,
Nancy




Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.