You may have heard about the east coast nurse, Charles Cullen, who recently pleaded guilty to killing 29, yes 29, patients. Philip Howard who chairs Common Good penned a brilliant piece for The New York Sun about how hospitals fearing a lawsuit from providing a negative reference allowed Cullen to bounce from one job to the next. And continue to kill.
When Fear Is Deadly
Earlier this month, Charles Cullen, the nurse who pleaded guilty to killing at least 29 patients in hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, was sentenced to 11 consecutive life terms. He is no longer a danger to society, but the underlying problem that allowed him to kill still is.
During his 16-year nursing career, Cullen was able to move from one hospital to another - to 10 medical facilities in all - because fear of litigation prevented those hospitals from giving him a bad reference. Co-workers observed his strange behavior, and caught him in rooms of patients with medications that weren't appropriate. But they didn't know he was murdering people, and couldn't prove that he was doing something illegal. So the hospitals would eventually let him go, and, when the next hospital in line asked for a reference, merely gave the stock response of all employers nowadays: "We confirm that he worked here from this to that date."
Even the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees the state nursing board and had been warned about Cullen's penchant for diverting medications, could not comment on his reputation. "Legally, we can't speak about any information we receive that doesn't result in disciplinary action," a spokesman said.