Comparing Apples to Oranges: Pharmacist Eric Cropp & Registered Nurse Anne Mitchell

     On Tuesday, February 16, 2010, JParadisi RN’s Blog had the most site hits since its debut in January, 2009. The day is notable, because the blog’s post Whistle Blowers & Patient Advocates: When the Nurse Stands Alone was mentioned by Shawn Kennedy on the AJN blog, Off the Charts.  I assumed the two events were connected. Imagine my surprise: they are not. The stats for JParadisi RN’s Blog show that the most popular post on February 16 was an older post:  Not a Wonderful Life: No George Bailey for Pharmacist Eric Cropp or His Patient. For the entire week that post and the posts with updates about Eric Cropp were the most viewed on my blog.

     Eric Cropp served 6 months of imprisonment for involuntary manslaughter in the death of 2 year-old Emily Jerry. Emily Jerry died when she received a chemotherapy solution containing a lethal dose of sodium chloride mixed by a pharmacy technician at the hospital where Eric was the supervising pharmacist. The Ohio Board of Pharmacy stripped Eric of his license prior to his conviction.  Now a convicted felon, he will never practice pharmacy again.

     Why the renewed interest in the Eric Cropp case, during the immediate aftermath of the Anne Mitchell trial? Anne Mitchell, RN was publicly supported by the Texas Nurses Association and the American Nurses Association. The TNA donated funds for Mitchell’s legal defense, and the Texas Medical Board acknowledged Mitchell’s duty as a patient safety advocate. Mitchell was found not guilty. There were no fatalities in the Anne Mitchell case. The most obvious difference drawn from a comparison of the two trials is that a child’s death initiated the criminal charges against Eric Cropp. Perhaps this explains why pharmacist professional associations appear silent on the matter. Searching  two prominent organizations websites with the keywords “Eric Cropp” I found only one article about the case on one site, and none on the other. Granted, defending a person accountable for the accidental death of a toddler creates an unpopular challenge in public relations. 

     Physicians are familiar with lawsuits involving the death of patients.  It is rare for a doctor to go to prison or be stripped of his or her license in such a case.  Eric Cropp was convicted of criminal charges in the absence of public support, except for  Michael Cohen of ISMP.  Whether this is right or wrong is a matter of opinion.

     The  pharmacy profession lost an opportunity to speak about patient safety systems, staffing issues, medication compounding practices, pharmacist to technician ratios, and other problems similar to those nurses have brought to public attention for years.  In contrast, the TNA, and ANA used Anne Mitchell’s trial to educate the non-medical public about the patient safety advocate role of nurses. It is important to remember that the non-medical public is unfamiliar with common hospital practices. In my opinion, there is an expectation for professional organizations to educate the public on the scope of practice of its members. It is unfortunate that this opportunity was missed during the Eric Cropp trial. 

     Did a lack of support and public education lead to the setting of  a disturbing  precedent: the criminalization of medication errors? (Will the Criminalization of Medication Errors Make Patients Safer in Ohio?).           

     Eric Cropp was released from jail on February 15, 2010, and this explains the increased traffic to JParadisi RN’s Blog on February 16, in the aftermath of the Anne Mitchell case. It was only a coincidence. Whether or not pharmacists compare the two very different outcomes of these trials, I do not know.

      I am married to a pharmacist.  However, for most of my career, I was a pediatric intensive care nurse dedicated to saving the lives of children like Emily Jerry. I saw firsthand families devastated from losing a child under less unusual circumstances. The opinions expressed in this post do not diminish my sympathy or empathy for the family of Emily Jerry.