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NICU Nurse Suspended After Five Infants Found Badly Injured

Photograph by Twenty20

Nearly 4 million babies are born in the United States each year, most of whom rely on trained nurses to care for them before, during and after delivery. But what if the nurse on call was doing more harm than good?

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, when staff members at UnityPoint Health-Meriter in Madison reported two babies with bruising last month in the newborn intensive care unit, doctors initially blamed the injuries on blanket wrapping, the clutching of wires or from an IV device. However, internal investigators from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) later uncovered three similar cases—two from last year and another from January 2018—that all had one thing in common: The same nurse had cared for each infant.

Though the nurse in question has since been suspended, CMS believes that Meriter should have done more to prevent further injuries after the first incident, when an infant was found bruised in the hospital’s newborn intensive care unit in April 2017.

As stated in a report following the Feb. 15-19 CMS inspection, Meriter "failed to develop and implement an effective policy to prevent, screen, identify, train, protect, thoroughly investigate, report and respond to any allegations of suspected abuse related to injuries or unknown origin."

The agency also issued an “immediate jeopardy” violation, the most serious kind, declaring that the hospital’s Medicare contract could be terminated if the problem is not corrected.

The injuries, which ranged from bruising on the face, arms and legs to rib and skull fractures, are “so serious that it constitutes an immediate threat to patient health safety,” wrote Maria Vergel De Dios, acting branch manager for the CMS office in Chicago, in a letter to Meriter.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services believes that Meriter should have done more to prevent further injuries after the first incident.

On Monday, WISC/CNN reported that another family had come forward, worried that their daughter might be the hospital's sixth victim.

Pierro Wipperfurth says that his daughter, Finnley, was born at Meriter Hospital, taken to the NICU and transferred to UW Hospital—as scheduled—seven hours later, where a mysterious mark was later spotted on her back.

“[UW employees] didn't look at the bruise and think it was a medical bruise, they called CPS,” Wipperfurth told reporters. Though both parents have been cleared by child services, the cause of the bruise is yet to be identified.

"She was born on Monday. On Thursday, a bruise was discovered,” said Wipperfurth.

“I said, ‘OK, if it wasn't us, it had to be somebody else. Who does that leave?’”

When news broke that Meriter had suspended a nurse for abusing patients, the couple immediately contacted police. They are now left trying to piece together who Finnley's NICU nurse was at Meriter and how this could have been avoided.

Meriter spokeswoman Jessika Kasten said the hospital “has been and continues working cooperatively with local, state and federal agencies involved in the review of our NICU. ... We have implemented enhanced safety measures, and our commitment to provide safe care to our patients and families has never been stronger.”

As part of its defense, Meriter has assigned a security guard to the newborn unit and will be placing cameras in each room. Supervisors are also required to check the unit randomly. Additionally, two people will now be present for all patient care activities and each nurse will have two patients instead of three.

Despite federal officials' acceptance of Meriter’s proposed changes, CMS spokeswoman Elizabeth Schinderle says the hospital must fix a few other problems found in the inspection before CMS will remove the threat of cutting off Medicare business.

Until an arrest has been made, neither the Madison Police Department, UnityPoint Health-Meriter nor federal officials are planning to release the name of the nurse allegedly responsible, but it's safe to assume she will be facing serious repercussions if found guilty.

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