Mom says nurse accused of incompetence should have had license revoked
The mother of a young drug overdose patient who died at a Pasadena psychiatric hospital has accused state regulators of failing to protect the public by not revoking the license of a nurse said to have provided incompetent care.
The death involved Alex Clyburn, 23, a student at Cal State Northridge who was admitted to Aurora Las Encinas Hospital suffering from overdose symptoms on April 13, 2008.
The nurse, Grace Anne McMeekin, was accused by the state Board of Registered Nursing of administering drugs to Clyburn that depressed his breathing even though his breathing rate was already low; by morning, Clyburn was found dead in his room.
The nursing board in December 2009 accused McMeekin of gross negligence and incompetence and asked that McMeekin’s license be revoked or suspended. In December 2011, state officials announced that McMeekin, 71, had agreed to the suspension of her nursing license for six months.
“She’s just grossly incompetent, and grossly negligent, and shouldn’t be practicing the science and art of nursing,” said Clyburn’s mother, Arline, who is a clinical nurse specialist in child and adolescent psychiatric nursing and board certified with the American Nurses Assn.
“It’s a shame on the Board of Registered Nursing for not doing what they needed to do to revoke her license and mandate that she surrender her license,” Clyburn’s mother said in a recent interview. “Their role is to protect the public. It calls into question how well they’re protecting the public.”
In 2008, The Times reported that just before he was admitted, Clyburn took a large dose of OxyContin, a painkiller, and Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug. After admission, hospital staffers gave him a mix of medications intended to ease his withdrawal. His mother later said she expressed concern to hospital staffers that the drugs would cause respiratory distress. She said a nurse assured her that they would check on her son through the night.
Clyburn was found dead in his room the next morning.
A mental health worker had falsified patient records claiming that Clyburn was checked on every 15 minutes, investigators found. Logs filed by the worker even reported Clyburn as sleeping just five minutes before a nurse discovered his body "cold & stiff to touch with a blue face," an indication he had been dead for some time.
Arline Clyburn also criticized state officials for taking nearly four years to discipline McMeekin.
Clyburn’s father, Ron, said he was told by state officials that McMeekin agreed to settle in December 2010, yet it took another year for McMeekin’s license to be suspended.
“That is just totally unreasonable and certainly not in the best interest of the public,” Ron Clyburn said.
In 2009, The Times and the nonprofit news organization ProPublica published an investigation showing that it takes the state nursing board an average of three years and five months to investigate and close complaints against nurses – leaving many accused nurses to practice with clean records in the interim.
A spokesman for the board, Russ Heimerich, said the agency is trying to reduce the amount of time it takes to discipline nurses.
Peter Osinoff, an attorney for McMeekin, said McMeekin settled the case because she did not have the financial ability to contest the board’s charges. “She believed that she did not act in a manner below the standard of care for nurses. I believed that,” Osinoff said.
-- Rong-Gong Lin II
Photo: An undated family photo of Alex Clyburn.