Nurse's suicide follows tragedy
The suicide of Kimberly Hiatt, a nurse who accidentally gave an infant a fatal overdose last year at Seattle Children's hospital, has closed an investigation but opened wounds for her friends and family members.
Seattle Times health reporter
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The suicide of a nurse who accidentally gave an infant a fatal overdose last year at Seattle Children's hospital has closed an investigation but opened wounds for her friends and family members, as they struggle to comprehend a second tragedy.
Kimberly Hiatt, 50, a longtime critical-care nurse at Children's, took her own life April 3. As a result, the state's Nursing Commission last week closed its investigation of her actions in the Sept. 19 death of Kaia Zautner, a critically ill infant who died in part from complications from an overdose of calcium chloride.
After the infant's death, the hospital put Hiatt on administrative leave and soon dismissed her. In the months following, she battled to keep her nursing license in the hopes of continuing the work she loved, despite having made the deadly mistake, friends and family members said.
To satisfy state disciplinary authorities, she agreed to pay a fine and to undergo a four-year probationary period during which she would be supervised at any future nursing job when she gave medication, along with other conditions, said Sharon Crum of Issaquah, Hiatt's mother.
"She absolutely adored her job" at Children's, where she had worked for about 27 years, said Crum. "It broke her heart when she was dismissed ... She cried for two solid weeks. Not just that she lost her job, but that she lost a child."
Just before her death, Hiatt had taken an advanced cardiac life-support certification exam to qualify for a job as a helicopter transport nurse and aced it, friends said. But a round of job applications and inquiries produced nothing, and friends said she was beginning to despair that she would ever find another job in nursing.
"She was basically a healer," said Donna Lawson, another friend. "She told me she lost everything."
Children's, in a statement, said: "Our deepest condolences go out to Kim's family. We respect the privacy of our current and former staff and will not discuss personal matters."
Children's and Hiatt ultimately entered into a settlement, with the help of the Washington State Nurses Association, which represents the nurses at Children's. Officials at those organizations declined to provide details. Crum and Hiatt's other family members said they were unable to reveal details as well because of nondisclosure conditions in the agreement.
Some of Hiatt's friends said they felt it was unfair for her to be fired so abruptly for what they characterized as a mathematical error.
"They canned her without fallback," said Gordy Pearcy, a friend who helped Hiatt get construction jobs when she was unable to find nursing work.
Pearcy, who runs a remodeling company, said he felt there was a double standard operating in health care. "This kind of thing happens with doctors, and they don't fire them, because it becomes a liability issue ... Doctors have their own insurance."
Crum, a retired nurse, noted that when she was working, hospitals always urged nurses to report errors, saying "write them up; we will back you."
Crum said she sympathized with the hospital, too. "They had a baby that died. It was the result of a human error. They have to do something. But to me, there were other alternatives than firing someone who had been a good, faithful nurse, and did not have a record as a sloppy nurse."
An investigation by state facilities licensing officials into this and two unrelated cases at Children's concluded in November that the hospital had "effective, adequate systems to prevent patient harm."
Hiatt's brother, Mike Hiatt, of Redmond, said his sister was very close to the seriously ill children she cared for, as well as their families. Many were among the hundreds who attended her memorial service earlier this month, along with many nursing colleagues, he said. "There were many, many people there who appreciated her service in nursing" and lauded her as a "relentless advocate for her patients and the families she cared for."
Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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