Professional nurses need to be able to recognize the regulations and scope under which they practice and apply ethical principles in decision making.
As a staff nurse in an intensive care unit, you accompany Dr. K to assess the condition of a patient, Mr. E, currently in the emergency department. The nursing home where Mr. E resides has brought him to the hospital because of lung congestion. The medical notes indicate that Mr. E is a 67-year-old white male with diabetes, high blood pressure, poor vision, and hearing difficulties, and is mildly developmentally delayed.
After assessing Mr. E’s condition, Dr. K determines that Mr. E has pneumonia secondary to aspiration. Mr. E is dyspneic on exertion and is running a fever of 101o F. He has a blood oxygen saturation level (SpO2) of 88% on room air. Dr. K determines that Mr. E will need to be placed on a ventilator and admitted to the intensive care unit. When Dr. K explains the situation Mr. E shakes his head and says, “Go away! No! No! Take me home.” Knowing that Mr. E is developmentally delayed and hypoxic, Dr. K is concerned that Mr. E does not understand the situation.
Dr. K notes that without the ventilator Mr. E will continue to aspirate and likely die. Dr. K asks you to look at Mr. E’s file to determine whether there is anyone else who might have responsibility for Mr. E. The chart indicates that seven years ago Mr. E checked himself into the local nursing home. When he entered the nursing home a patient advocate helped him fill out an advance directive, which stated Mr. E’s medical wishes. Mr. E clearly indicated that he did not want a ventilator or cardiopulmonary resuscitation. No family member signed the advance directive and it is unclear if any family members were involved. Mr. E has also filled out a medical power of attorney, which states Mr. E wants his younger brother, Mr. Y, to make medical decisions for him in the event he is no longer able to do so.
Dr. K asks you to call the brother and explain the entire situation. You call Mr. Y and tell him his brother is in the hospital with serious pneumonia. You explain that if Mr. E is not treated soon, he will most likely die within a few days. You tell Mr. Y that his brother is refusing the ventilator. You also explain to Mr. Y that his brother’s low oxygen saturation and fever may be preventing him from thinking clearly. Mr. Y asks if he can think about it and let you know the following day. Because Dr. K feels it is an urgent situation and that the decision needs to be made right away, you tell Mr. Y that it cannot wait. You do not mention the advance directive.
Finally Mr. Y agrees to drive to the hospital, see his brother, and make a decision. Immediately after hanging up the phone, Mr. Y decides to call his niece, Ms. H, hoping she might know what to do. His niece does not answer the phone, so he leaves her a message about the situation, stating he would like her advice on what to do.
Ms. H receives the phone message within the hour. She immediately calls Mr. Y back, but he is no longer home. Ms. H calls her boyfriend and asks him to drive her to the hospital. When she gets there, she does not find Mr. Y, but she is directed to the intensive care unit, where you are still on duty. Ms. H arrives with her boyfriend at her side.
You greet Ms. H just as Dr. K walks into the waiting room. Upon hearing who Ms. H is, Dr. K begins to explain Mr. E’s condition. The boyfriend is standing next to Ms. H and there are several other people sitting in the waiting room. Dr. K emphasizes the need for someone to provide consent for the ventilator. He does not mention Mr. E’s advance directive. Ms. H quickly provides verbal consent and tells Dr. K she will talk with her uncle, Mr. Y, and convince him to sign the necessary paperwork since he is the one with the medical power of attorney. Dr. K plans to proceed with the intubation while Ms. H and her boyfriend wait for Mr. Y’s arrival.
You are scheduled to take a dinner break and go to the cafeteria where you sit with three nurses who work on the medical-surgical unit where many ICU patients are transferred. You explain the situation to them and ask them what they think you should do. One nurse says, “What difference does it make? The guy’s got diabetes, is retarded, and is already in a nursing home.” Another nurse tells you to forget it and says that no one pays attention to HIPAA anyway. A third nurse says there was no such thing as an advance directive when she went to school so she doesn’t know anything about them. You return to the unit to find Mr. E intubated and on a ventilator.
Review the case study and write an essay (suggested length of 2–3 pages) in which you do the following:
A. Describe one of your state regulations or nursing standards of practice that applies to your role in this case study.
1. Discuss the implications of the selected regulation on the above scenario.
B. Describe a nursing code of ethics approved by the American Nurses Association (ANA) that applies to this case study.
1. Discuss how this code would impact your professional decision in this situation.
2. Discuss the ethical implications in the scenario of placing the patient on the respirator.
3. Discuss the ethical considerations Mr. Y should weigh before agreeing to authorize the use of the ventilator for his brother.
C. Analyze factors that complicate Mr. E’s advance directive.
D. Analyze the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations in the scenario.
E. Analyze the professional conduct of the nurses in the scenario.
1. Explain the steps that you as the nurse should take in the scenario, based on the ANA code of ethics.
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