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Sorry Works! Blog

Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

Man Forges Friendship with EMS Who Killed His Wife, Unborn Child

Yesterday a story hit the wires that spoke to me, and will hopefully speak to you. A firefighter/EMS was coming off a 24-hour shift, only had a 30 minute nap, and was driving home when he fell asleep at the wheel and rammed into another car driven by a pregnant woman driving her 19-month old child.  The toddler and the EMS survived, but the mom and her unborn baby perished.

The husband of the deceased woman, Erik Fitzgerald, is a full-time pastor, and one of the young people in his student ministry wondered how the EMS, Matt Swatzell, felt.   Pastor Erik knew the EMS was probably a good person doing a tough job and didn't mean to hurt his wife and unborn child.  He forgave Swatzell and spoke on his behalf during his sentencing at court.  Mr. Swatzell was given a fine and community service.  Now, the two men share a friendship of over six years.   Pastor Erik has remarried, and Mr. Swatzell, with the help of Pastor Erik, has worked through his guilt and anxiety and is now married with a son of his own and another baby on the way.  The process has been healing for both sides.

I share this story with Sorry Works! readers because the fact pattern is very, very close to what we deal with every day.  In fact, you could say this story is a med-mal case given that 1) Swatzell is an EMS and 2) Swatzell's mistake was caused by exhaustion...the same exhaustion that causes many doctors and nurses to make mistakes.

There is a lot of talk these days about should we or should we not punish clinicians who make mistakes?   If Swatzell was a nurse who made a similar mistake, he may have been fired....or would he have been supported?  Would Swatzell have been given the opportunity to meet with the family, or would lawyers have kept both sides separated, and suffering?   Like Swatzell, doctors and nurses make mistakes, but they don't mean to hurt people.  I have yet to meet a clinician who knowingly wants to malpractice somebody.   The great thing about disclosure is we encourage caregivers to remain engaged with patients and families post-event, and, in so doing, there are more opportunities for endings similar to what Swatzell and Fitzgerald are experiencing.  Not that all stories will end in this manner, but patients and families can be incredibly forgiving when clinicians make that brave step forward after an event.   Are we helping doctors and nurses take those brave steps forward after an event, or are we shaming them and lawyering up?   Not only do we reduce lawsuits and litigation expenses while increasing safety with disclosure, we also heal human beings.  Do you have a program in place to help human beings heal after a medical error?

Hey, this Thursday, February 6th at 1pm EST/10am PST, we are holding a free preview webinar to review our two new online disclosure learning courses.  This is a great chance to see how these courses are the economic and scalable way to teach the disclosure basics to all of your doctors, nurses, and other staff.  To register, simply e-mail doug@sorryworks.net.

Here is the link to read more about Fitzgerald and Swatzell's story: http://www.today.com/news/man-crash-killed-woman-forges-friendship-her-widower-2D12044681.

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