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Nursing Shortage Blamed For Boy's Death
by Jose Latour

Four-year-old Antonio Hambrick was at Hughes Spalding Children's Hospital for a routine tonsillectomy, two years younger than my age when I had the same surgery in South Florida. Antonio's hospital, located in Georgia, is one of the many institutions in this country experiencing dramatic nursing shortages as a result of the U.S. Congress' failure to extend the H-1A nurse visa, combined with the fact that the U.S. is not producing enough domestic Registered Nurses to keep pace with the needs of the country.

According to the doctor's orders, the R.N. was to give Antonio two milligrams of morphine after his routine surgery, and she did so at 10:00 pm on September 15th. The instructions further provided that two additional milligrams could be supplied, but only after six hours and only if he needed them for pain relief. Unfortunately, sometime between midnight and 7:30 the next morning, a licensed practical nurse (L.P.N.) - less trained than a Registered Nurse - dispensed the second dose to little Antonio, violating the hospital's policy on who may administer narcotics. She did not write down the time of administration.

By morning, Antonio had died of a morphine overdose. According to the article relaying the story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the attorneys for Antonio's parents say that they don't know whether the boy's death is just the latest example of the growing national crisis in healthcare, or whether an unauthorized nurse handled the second morphine shot because no authorized nurse was available. But here's what they do know:

  • While only the L.P.N. neglected to record the time of the second shot, neither the original R.N. nor the L.P.N. recorded the time on a form nurses use to track drug dosages from shift to shift.

  • A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in May determined that when the ratio of nurses to patients was low, death rates were 2.5% higher than in hospitals where the nurses to patients ratio was high.

Shocking revelation, right? No, not at all. The truth is that while Congress sits around blowing smoke and wasting time, nurses are available, but we're doing nothing about it. Last week, Congress passed a bill designed to encourage more people to go into the profession... while providing no money for the measure. But the really sad part is this: one cannot financially compel people to change their cultural perspective of what they wish to do with their lives. The truth is that the nursing profession, as viewed by the eyes of young men and women seeking careers in the United States, is not currently a popular, glamorous alternative. Meanwhile, in other nations throughout the world, the nursing profession is seen for what it really is: a dignified, prestigious career that brings the very best of medical knowledge and technology to the forefront and the delivers humane and caring treatment to those who most need it.

The choice is simple: force American kids to study something they don't want or make it easier for people who truly love what they are doing to enter the United States and care for Americans. Who would you prefer tending to you at your time of need, someone who in it for the money, or someone in nursing because they love it?

Before you lambast me and send me a barrage of e-mails telling me that "American nursing students aren't doing it for the money," give me a break, I KNOW THAT! Believe me, having lost an appendix and nearly a toe this year and having had a number of American nurse friends, I know that there are few finer nursing professionals than those home-grown in the United States, and I do not for one second question the motives and interests of nurses who hail from our country. My point is simply this: people should study what they want to study because they love what they are going to do, not because a bunch of old geezers in Washington are telling them to study it. We can no more persuade people to become great Registered Nurses through congressional intervention than we can convince art history majors to become programmers through congressional intervention. Moreover, those elements which are necessary to success in medical fields - things you can't teach, like "bedside manner," sensitivity, and human compassion - cannot be legislated into existence. Think about the people you know and the personalities you run into over the course of your day. There are an awful lot of people out there whom you would not want responsible for the administration of your kid's morphine, right?

According to the article I mentioned, the American Nursing Association estimates that 126,000 nursing jobs are now vacant in the United States. I believe that estimate is artificially low. The hospitals blame a shortage of nursing school graduates and, while the article didn't say so, the unavailability of foreign-trained nursing professionals who are all too happy to work in the United States. Registered Nurses are correct in pointing out that aggressive cost- cutting under HMO guidance in the 1990s made the profession a lot less attractive, and we are paying the piper today. The short answer is what I have been saying all along: Congress, get off your big, fluffy butts, resuscitate the H-1A and get things back in gear until U.S. schools can give us the American nurses we need. Things are out of control, and little Antonio is the latest casualty, thanks to your inaction.

About The Author

Jose Latour is the founding partner of Latour & Lleras, P.A., a Gainesville, Florida based business immigration practice working primarily with the IT industry and foreign investors. The above represents Mr. Latour's Editorial opinion. JELPA is an A/V rated firm whose web site,, is one of the Internet’s most visited immigration sites. The firm was named “ONE OF AMERICA’S TOP TEN INTERNET/VIRTUAL COMPANIES” in the 1999 Inc. Magazine and Cisco Systems “Growing with Technology Awards.” Mr. Latour served as a U.S. Diplomatic and Consular Officer in Mexico and Africa before entering private practice and today divides his time between his law practice, writing, flying, and his music.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.