Fayette jail nurses' licenses suspended, then stayed

Board Issues suspension order, then lifts it with conditions

jkegley@herald-leader.comMarch 31, 2011 

The licenses of two nurses at the Fayette County jail were suspended for three years after an investigation into the death of an inmate last summer, but the suspensions have been stayed.

That means Karen Hodge and Stephanie Travis may continue to practice nursing during their suspensions as long as they comply with strict guidelines, including supervision and training.

The order was released Friday by the Kentucky Board of Nursing, which has been reviewing the case since the family of the inmate submitted a complaint in August.

The inmate, Dean Ferguson, was serving a weekend sentence at the jail for driving under the influence when he collapsed and died of a pulmonary embolism. Documents obtained by the Herald-Leader through an open records request showed Hodge and Travis did not examine Ferguson despite his complaints of shortness of breath and leg pain. The nursing board reported that at one point, Travis denied Ferguson's request to go to the emergency room.

Ferguson, 54, was feeling sick when he checked in to the jail about 7 p.m. July 9. Travis examined Ferguson about 9:30 p.m., clearing him to enter the jail despite his elevated blood pressure and pulse.

Fifteen minutes later, a pale, sweating Ferguson was seen on surveillance video having trouble standing and leaning heavily on a trash can. Hodge spoke to him briefly but "performed no physical evaluation," the nursing board's order said.

Ferguson was taken to the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital after he "became pulseless" at the jail about 9 a.m. July 10, the order said.

The nursing board also said the nurses did not document their interactions with Ferguson or each other, which is against their employer's policy. Both nurses told the board they did not remember conversations about Ferguson's condition, and there was no documentation of what was said.

The nurses have been ordered to attend regular meetings with the nursing board during their probationary period. They must undergo 60 hours of training on nursing, patient care and documentation, and they must pay civil penalties of $1,800 each.

The nurses agreed to the terms, signing the order after consulting with attorneys.

Hodge and Travis are employed by Correctional Medical Services, a Missouri-based company that contracts with the Fayette County jail to provide inmate medical services, Sgt. Jennifer Taylor, a jail spokeswoman, said.

Asked whether the board's findings would affect the employment of Hodge and Travis, Ken Fields, a spokesman for Correctional Medical Services, said in a statement that he could not comment on specific personnel matters.

"All staff providing health care at the corrections facility are appropriately licensed to provide health care services," Fields said.

Ferguson's family has been waiting for the nursing board to complete its investigation before pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit.

"We are certainly planning litigation," attorney Fred Peters said after the board's findings were released.

Ferguson, 54, used to operate Hallmark stores in Kentucky that generated millions in revenue yearly, but he spent the last years of his life unemployed and struggling to find construction work. For that reason, he would not have wanted the nurses to lose their jobs, according to his sister Lisa Day.

Day said Ferguson would have been satisfied with the board's orders for the two nurses.

"That's what Dean would have wanted. He certainly wouldn't have wanted to ruin anyone's life, but (the nursing board) has acknowledged that the nurses were at fault," she said.

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