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Is it patient abandonment if a surgeon, also the owner of a facility, forces an RN to leave the OR before transferring a patient to the PACU?



Dear Nancy,

Is it considered patient abandonment if a surgeon, who is also the owner of the facility I work in, forced me leave the OR before we transferred the patient to the PACU? He made me follow him to my director’s office so he could ream me out about something I said regarding the computer in the OR Room. Despite my insistence about not leaving my patient, he did not care. What recourse do I have should this happen again?


Dear Nancy replies:

Dear May,

You did not indicate what your role was in the OR (e.g., assisting during surgery, circulating nurse, nurse anesthetist). What your role was would help clarify your obligations with this particular patient. In addition, you did not indicate how many other nurses were in the OR at the time, and if one could relieve you until the patient was transferred to the PACU. This information would be helpful to evaluate the situation you described.

Generally speaking, however, patient abandonment is defined as a unilateral leaving of a patient without a replacement to continue to provide care (e.g, in an in-patient setting) or without time for the patient to obtain continued care with another healthcare provider (e.g., in a clinic or private practice). Employers also define patient abandonment by way of their employee policies. In addition, boards of nursing often include in the nurse practice act or rules what constitutes patient abandonment for purposes of disciplinary actions against the nurse.

In your situation, you are dealing with a difficult set of circumstances, since this surgeon owns the facility. Even so, he cannot dictate to you what your duties and obligations are to your patients. You might want to seek a consultation with a nurse attorney or other attorney in your state who works with employees and who can provide you with some options, one of which might be a letter from the attorney to the surgeon concerning your legal and ethical obligations to your patients.

The attorney also might evaluate the merits of reporting this surgeon to the state medical licensing board if a reporting is warranted. Be sure to provide the attorney with all of the details concerning this situation and your work environment.



About Author

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.

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