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Why are preventable deaths and prolonged illnesses resulting from hospital neglect and malpractice more common during weekend and night shifts? As a Virginia medical negligence attorney, I think it is perhaps because many veteran employees prefer and have the seniority privilege of working during the day, which leaves the less experienced workers with the night hours. “Skeleton crews” contribute to medical malpractice during late hours of the night because leading specialists and topnotch surgeons tend to be in the comfort of their own homes as opposed to walking the halls of a hospital at 3 in the morning. New and timid staff members may be hesitant to contact off duty high ranking physicians if a problem arises. Those qualified doctors that do stay throughout the night hours may fall victim to fatigue, resulting in a significantly lower performance level. Employees may be completely competent, but it may not make a difference if the facility is understaffed. A breast cancer patient at UCLA Medical Center recalls not only screaming for help when she couldn’t breathe in the middle of the night, but listening to other’s cries that went unanswered, even when the emergency buttons were pressed. Without a visitor there to assist this patient, she may have lost her life.

This brings us to a list of precautions and items to be aware of when entering a hospital or any other health facility. Insisting a friend or family member stay with you will provide protection and help from at least one source, if others can’t be reached. As the evening is progressing into the night hours, verify your doctor’s name so that you may request the same employee throughout the night. It is absolutely essential that as a patient you know not only the type of medicine, but the name and dosage to confirm future nighttime treatment that is more susceptible to errors. Do not let a certified position fool you; top doctors are capable of making mistakes just like everyone else. It is your responsibility to do a background check of the hospital before you are admitted. Be aware of the possibility of mistakes and do not be intimidated by staff’s knowledge or authority. Ask all nurses and orderlies to wash their hands to prevent infection. Whether it’s your life or the life of a loved one, protect it the best you can.

About the Editors: Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm (VA-NC law offices) edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, as well as the Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service to consumers. Lawyers licensed in: VA, NC, SC, WV, DC, KY, who handle car, truck, railroad, and medical negligence cases and more.

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