Prison nurse's conduct 'lacking'

KIRSTY JOHNSTON
Last updated 16:29 11/12/2012

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A prison nurse who withheld an inmate's medication because she believed he was hoarding it has failed in her bid to get her job back.

Laine Faapito was fired as health team leader at Mt Eden Prison in Auckland in 2009 after the Corrections Department decided her conduct was not acceptable.

She unsuccessfully challenged her dismissal in the Employment Relations Authority and then went to the Employment Court, seeking reinstatement and damages.

The court, in its just-released decision, said Faapito had been employed at the prison since 2003 and was responsible for nursing staff and providing health services to prisoners.

After a prisoner was found saving his quetiapine drugs during a cell search in 2009, Faapito decided to temporarily stop giving him the medication.

She suspected he was trading the drugs, which were usually prescribed for acute and chronic psychosis, including schizophrenia and manic episodes associated with bipolar disorder.

A week later, the prisoner expressed anger to an outside psychiatric nurse at the Mason Clinic.

The prisoner complained he wasn't able to sleep. He was anxious and distressed, and feared being attacked by other prisoners.

The psychiatric nurse said the prisoner needed to be on his medication and he began receiving a night dose only as recommended.

But the issue came to the Corrections Department's attention when the Mason Clinic nurse complained that Faapito had discontinued medication without consultation.

It first suspended then dismissed Faapito after an internal investigation. Faapito was offered a more junior position at a different prison, but refused, saying the commute was too long.

Corrections found Faapito's conduct did not meet the standard required of a registered nurse. She failed to discuss the suspension of medication with a doctor, didn't consult with the prisoner, didn't assess the risks involved or adequately document her decision.

A Nursing Council of New Zealand competency review later also found  Faapito's performance to be lacking, but stopped short of calling it "serious misconduct".

The earlier Employment Relations Authority ruling found there was proof supporting Faapito's claims that she did contact the psychiatrist about temporarily withholding the prisoner's medication.

But it said that withholding the medication without a full clinical assessment of the prisoner was a "very serious decision".

Her failure to update the prisoner's medical chart, promptly advise other nursing staff, and lack of documentation were also taken into account.

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The Employment Court upheld those findings, saying the dismissal was justified. It said while nurses in prisons had complicated positions, they were still expected to adhere to the practice and ethical standards of all nurses.

- Auckland Now

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