Sorry Works!

Sorry Works! Blog

Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

Nurses, Unions, and Disclosure & Apology

I wrote a column last week about the need to educate nurses about disclosure & apology and involving RNs in the disclosure process. This column touched a nerve with many readers of this space. So, I will take it one step further this week: Don't forget the unions that represent nurses.

A few years ago I was contacted by a risk manager friend from a West Coast hospital, and she shared a story of how a mom gave birth to premature twins and the twins and mom were doing fine until their medicine was mixed up.  Turns out the medicine bottles for mom and twin babies were very similar in size and color, and nurses accidentally gave mom's medicine to the twins. The problem was quickly realized, corrective measures taken immediately, and the hospital believes the twins will be OK long-term. However, the mom and family were deeply shaken. The risk manager described how the leadership team sprang into action, apologized, disclosed, waived bills, flew grandparents in free of charge, offered free monitoring of the twins, etc.  I said, "Sounds great, now, tell me about the staff who were involved in this accident."  The risk manager said two senior, well-respected nurses were involved in the medical error.  The risk manager further elaborated that the nurses were simply "devastated."   I suggested that as part of the resolution process, the nurses should be offered the chance to meet with the family and apologize.  I told the risk manager this act of contrition may be necessary for the nurses to heal emotionally and spiritually  --- and it could be very beneficial for the family as well..  The risk manager said, "OK."  

A week or so later I touched base with the risk manager.  I asked how the nurses were doing, and I was told, "The nurses union said 'no' to their members meeting with the family.  End of story." 

Now, I certainly can appreciate why the union would say "no."  They are trying to protect their members, from not only potential civil litigation but, more immediately, disciplinary action from the hospital. They have good reason for this fear because for far too long nurses have been ridiculed, suspended, and even fired following medical errors (in addition to being sued!).  Shame and Blame 101.  

With disclosure taking root, unions representing nurses and other healthcare professionals need to be educated and included.  I've had some experience educating unions on disclosure, and when you lay it out they quickly understand the benefit and value to their members.  So, as you build your disclosure program be sure to involved all stakeholders, especially the unions.

For help developing your disclosure program, call Sorry Works! at 618-559-8168 or e-mail


- Doug

Doug Wojcieszak, 618-559-8168 


Doug Wojcieszak