Sleeping-nurse case renews focus on nurse fatigue

The case of Tanya Lemon, a DeWitt, New York nurse whose disabled patient died when Lemon fell asleep on the job, has reignited the debate on how to reduce fatigue among healthcare workers, according to the Associated Press.

Lemon, a nurse at a group home, pled guilty to felony charges of endangerment of a disabled person after Dennis Dattalo, a 25-year-old disabled man in her care, died from lack of oxygen while she slept. Barbara Parsons, a nurse who worked with Lemon at the Briarwood Lane home, says Lemon wasn't the only employee to sleep on night shifts. Staff regularly took extra shifts for the overtime pay and exploited loopholes in rules limiting the hours they could work, Parsons told the AP.

The AP was unable to find exact numbers for prosecutions of healthcare workers for sleeping on the job, but Ohio's Department of Developmental Disabilities could confirm 88 cases of paid caregivers sleeping on duty last year, often during overnight shifts when patients in their care were also asleep. None of these cases resulted in patient harm or criminal penalties.

New York's guidance on fatigue among healthcare workers cited five cases of disabled or vulnerable patients harmed by caregiver negligence, according to the news outlet's research. Patricia Gunning, special prosecutor for New York's Justice Center for disabled people, told the AP that her office will also prosecute Briarwood Lane's management if it can prove managers knew that caregivers slept on the job and took no action.

Lemon was sentenced to 90 days in prison and five years' probation. Her nursing license was also revoked and she is banned from caring for patients considered vulnerable under New York law, according to the article.

Hospitals, meanwhile, have taken numerous steps to address the nurse-fatigue issue, including a two-person buddy system, FierceHealthcare previously reported. The American Nursing Association has also made several recommendations to reduce fatigue, including a 40-hour maximum for work weeks and a 12-hour limit for shifts, ending mandatory overtime and giving nurses the right to decline assignments that may increase the risk of fatigue.

To learn more:
- here's the AP article