Medical Personnel’s Hands So Tied By Liability Concerns They Hesitate To Save A Life

Posted by – April 1, 2009

Months ago, a serious incident happened on Unit A13. Suddenly, I heard the operator blast over the loudspeaker “CODE BLUE A-APPLE-13!! CODE BLUE A-APPLE-13!!” Aides frantically checked all the patients, coming to me first (because I’m in the first room). They ran up and down the hall. Everyone was fine. “WHERE’S THE CODE??”

It wasn’t a patient coding, it was one of the staff. A phlebotomist (guy who draws blood for tests) collapsed near the elevator, evidently of a major heart attack.

He is a grimly depressed looking guy with dark cones under his eyes that give him a bat-like appearance, big ears and chubby jowls, and I have been stabbed by him numerous times. I think he’s Pakistani, but he and the other phlebotomists who’re part of my life here rarely talk (blood tests are srs bzn).

Phlebotomist dude

Phlebotomist dude

a quick sketch by me, approximating the guy’s appearance

This guy was in bad trouble, and they had to work hard to get his heart started again (heavy duty CPR). An ambulance raced to the scene. The paramedics helped with CPR, but then a problem; they didn’t want to transfer him to the gurney.

“He’s not a patient here, so we don’t know if we’re covered.” A heated argument ensued. In cases of cardiac arrest, there’s not a second to waste.

The aides jumped in and angrily did it themselves, putting him on the stretcher, then the paramedics rushed him to the emergency room. “He’s an employee! he’s one of us! it could be me on that floor” an aide told me when she relayed the story that night. They didn’t know if he would make it when he left.

Fortunately, he lived, and is now over 6 months later he’s back at work, silently and efficiently stabbing me and others, though he lost lots of weight.

But this incident exposes some very serious issues. Has the morality in our society sunk so low, that a remote risk of liability is worth more than a man’s life?

This man survived; how many haven’t because of this madness?? When medical personnel’s hands are so tied by liability concerns that they hesitate to saves lives, does that mean the medical system is too f’d up to function and is pretty much finished? Are we so weighed down by our tangle of draconian rules and regulations that we would, even for an instant, consider the liability of moving someone a greater risk than the liability of letting him die?

Is covering yourself now more important than humanity, morality, and even saving a life? I’m usually a calm person, but stuff like that makes me want to throw down!

I really don’t understand what the health care industry is becoming, but it seems to me the antithesis of the bold, pioneering American spirit. Refusing to transfer a code blue guy to a gurney due to liability concerns is cowardly and selfish, and at worst possibly “negligent homicide” if death results, or “criminal indifference,” and at best “reckless endangerment.”

Is the American medical culture in code blue? How do we resuscitate it?


  • That's unbelievably fail-ey. Don't you have “good Samaritan” laws protecting those who do non-insane stuff in good faith to help people?

  • Wow…way to go, Nick! What ever happened to “First, do no harm?”

  • Lenee

    Bravo to the aides who jumped in and did the right thing! If I lost my job over saving a man's life I would not regret any of my actions and would do it again a hundred times over. The big picture is so much more important than a job. Shame on those who stood around debating liability issues!

    Our system is so F%*ked up and there needs to be more people who are willing to put their own well-being aside to help their fellow man. If more people fought the screwed up rules and regulations by breaking them in times of need, maybe we could eliminate some of these ridiculous standards!

  • jason Nolan

    One of the problems is that without consent, the person who gets the help may not want it, and can sue you. America prefers litigation over life. And what if you do something to help someone, but kills them because you didn't know they had allergy x or condition y. It is not about lack of ethic… when a society protects the helpful mistaken idiot, then people will take chances. But when society does not… will you destroy your life (via million $ law suit you can't afford) to save someone who is likely to sue your ass for thanks?

    I'magine someone deciding they wanted to help you, nick, in ways you didn't want and were harmful, cause they felt they had the right to. Will you give up your right to sue? I think not. Helping people is not a right.

    Now with your situation, yes, I'd jump in. That's easy. When someone fell and broke his leg on the ice 6 weeks ago, we stayed with him helping. Messy and problematic.

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