Lawsuit: Nurse who died in car wreck was ‘worked to death’

Beth Jasper's vehicle was heavily damaged in a car wreck that took her life in Cincinnati, Ohio on March 16, 2013. (Photo: CNN / WCPO)

Beth Jasper's vehicle was heavily damaged in a car wreck that took her life in Cincinnati, Ohio on March 16, 2013. (Photo: CNN / WCPO)

CINCINNATI, Ohio — An Ohio man whose wife died in a car accident earlier this year is suing the hospital where she was a nurse, claiming she was “worked to death,” and that the hospital knew about it.

Jim Jasper’s wife, Beth, was killed on March 16 while driving home after a 12-hour shift.

The wrongful death lawsuit, filed last week, alleges that from 2011 to the time of her death, Beth Jasper’s unit at the Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati was “regularly understaffed,” causing some nurses, including Jasper, to work through breaks and pick up additional shifts.

Additionally, Jasper was routinely called into work while off duty because she was one of the few nurses qualified to work the unit’s dialysis machines, according to the suit.

“It needs to change. These nurses cannot be treated this way,” Jim Jasper told CNN affiliate WCPO, referring to the conditions he says led to his wife’s death. “They can’t continue to work these nurses and expect them to pick up the slack because they don’t want to staff the hospitals.”

Staff shortages and overextended shifts for nurses are a nationwide issue, according to National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union representing registered nurses, with nearly 185,000 members throughout the country. But wrongful death litigation stemming from staffing issues is unusual.

“Chronic understaffing is rampant throughout hospitals around the country,” said Bonnie Castillo, the union’s government relations director. “It is probably the single biggest issue facing nurses nowadays, and it’s not only affecting nurses, but patient health as well.”

Jim Jasper’s attorney, Eric Deters, said Beth Jasper may have fallen asleep before her car veered off the road, jumped an embankment and struck a tree. During her final shift, according to the lawsuit, Beth Jasper told other nurses she was “really stressed” and “hadn’t eaten.”

The lawsuit alleges that fatigue from being overworked contributed to the death of the 38-year-old mother of two.

“This is just a tragic situation,” Deters said Tuesday. “The hospital clearly did not take care of its own people, and it did so deliberately.”

Jasper’s lawsuit claims that hospital staffers, including his wife’s supervisor, were aware of the staffing problems and alerted the hospital’s parent company, Mercy Health Group. Her supervisor expressed concern to superiors that Beth Jasper was being “worked to death,” yet the hospital did nothing to deal with the staffing issue, the suit said.

Nanette Bentley, a spokeswoman for Mercy Health Group, expressed sympathy for the family, but declined to comment on pending litigation.

Castillo, the union representative, said “safe staffing ratios” of nurses to patients remain largely unregulated in the United States.

California is the only state with safe staffing ratio laws, Castillo said. The law requires nurses on general medical or surgical floors to care for no more than five patients at a time, and nurses in intensive care units to care for no more than two. The law has been in effect since 2004.

The union has pushed for safe staffing legislation around the country.

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56 comments

  • Randy KIrk

    Graduated nursing school in ’92. Had many different kind of jobs before that….I’ve been a nurse for 21 yrs. Most of my career has been in the ER. The public has NO IDEA what it’s like and it’s a huge waste of time to try to explain. I get the lawsuit, and see its justification. Because when it comes to money, THEN people take notice. Otherwise, to “john q-6pack,” we are just whining. They are clueless…. Many people think we are there to get pillows and warm blankets and provide nothing more then to make sure they are “comfortable”….again, absolutely clueless. So, to my fellow nurses…save your breath from a segment in our society that will never understand no matter how much we protest the situation. This lawsuit will do more than all the rhetoric voiced by us. Administrations take notice of this a lot more than explaining our plight.

  • Mary

    I have been a nurse for 29 years, I am tired!! In 5 days I have worked 80 hours, day shift and evening shift! Just so we are staffed, no one else to do it!! Do you think the company I work for, cares, NO!! I have been hit, abused and many hurt feelings by the D.O.N.’s But, I love taking care of people. The joy I get when someone tells me thank you!! Go forward with the lawsuit…

  • Amber

    I feel so horrible for this man and all the nurses as well as a lot of the doctors as well. I have had some very rude demeaning doctors and nurses but for the most part they are very good to me when I need to go there. I pray nothing like this happens again.

  • J.

    So sorry for your loss. She gave her life for selflessly saving others. Prayers for you and your family. Good luck on your attempt to make changes to save others the grief you are feeling.

  • NCLEX Preceptor

    This is a tragic story. I hope changes are made.

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  • Ex nurse

    RN 17 yrs. Overworked and understaffed to ridiculous levels. When a nurse didn’t show up I had to stay. If caregivers didn’t show up I had to stay and attempt to find someone to work. 75 patients in the geriatric facility. All depending on me. Going home didn’t relieve the stress. I worried and stressed over if such and such got her medication. Did I get the orders placed to the pharmacy, are the medications appropriate or do I need to call the doctor, did I give the right dosage…. on an on my brain stressed. I know without a doubt I made mistakes. And some of those mistakes cost the patient. I I quit after 17 yrs. Today, 4 yrs later I am mentally ill, have PTSD and have nightmares about nursing frequently. All from nursing. I don’t have insurance or disability. We are homeless and frequently we go without food. We don’t have welfare or food stamps but we do go to the food bank when desperate. I would rather be in the situation I am in now then to spend one more day nursing. Do you worry about the nurse taking care of you or your loved ones? You should. I sure do.

  • mary

    As a nurse I see both sides but I have concern over where the blame is being placed. Put some on the nurses own organization that is pushing for nurses to have higher degrees ( I know many that quit, retired) rather than be FORCED back to school over threat of being fired. Put some on the gov’t./insurance companies and nursg. organizations that want the hospitals to have higher status for more money in return, put some on the person herself that took the extra shifts, drove herself home that day, put some on the hospital for not having enough trained staff. This situation did not happen because of one issue but rather many. I have been in nursing for over 34 years now and you have to have a certain make up for the job and feel comfortable with yourself and most of all be able to say NO. I also have a family member who worked with this person and she has said no before to overtime.

  • Robin Kaser

    While I feel bad for the husband , The nurse should have said no I will not work. Nurses do alot for their patients and they need to be alert and confident while doing their jobs. There are many careers out there that require more than a 8 hour shift , you need to be able to see that you have limits to what your body and brain can do. This is also a problem for the nursing organization because they are suppose to be their to support the needs of the nursing staff while they are doing thier jobs. everyone hates unions but unions have done alot to make our working situations safer for everyone.

  • Crustyrusty

    Oh yeah, tell administration that you won’t cover the 7th 13 hour shift in a row because they are too cheap to hire agency. Tell them that you won’t stay for the double shift because it isn’t safe. Tell them that 30 patients with 2 aides is too much; never mind that 10 of them are fingersticks 4 times a day, you have 5 g tubes, a couple of IVs going, and the demented people falling every couple of hours because the GOVERNMENT says they have the right to fall and die, well, until they do, then the surveyors are crawling up your a$$ trying to take your license.

    Oh yeah, I was a military cop for 20 years as well.

    I don’t want to hear it.

  • Junebabe

    I’ve worked in the ER in two different hospitals (non-clinical), and I’ve seen what these nurses go through. I agree with many of the comments here, and it’s true that nothing will happen no changes made until it hits the pocket book of the hospitals. I’ve seen the pressure placed on them to work the extra.
    What I’m concerned about here is this… I have a niece who has a degree in nursing graduated 2yrs ago and cannot find work. If there is such a shortage, why why why won’t they hire the newly graduated? I’ll tell you why! No experience. This is what she was told. No experience!!! Stupid!
    And as for my experience with Agency RN’s they are lackadaisical. Some know they are only there for a day or two so they go through the motions, some are caring but are so slow the daily nurses have to pick up their slack.

  • nurse4u

    I am a registered nurse and first want to offer my condolences to this family. It is a horrible tragedy. I hope this gentleman wins his lawsuit to better the broken healthcare system and be an advocate for our profession.
    Ignorance is bliss, especially for Kyle and others here commenting on hoe other first responder workers have it as hard. Im not comparing my positionto the police or firemen that are wonderful at their jobs because it is much different as they are not assigned to keep watch on 6+ more ill people every minute of their 12 hour shifts that usually turn into 15 with 3 of those being unpaid.
    As an RN who has worked in many different facets of nursing and currently a nurse in our military, it never changes whatever role we play. We do not just abandon our posts…our patients. We look out for them first then ourselves.
    Its time someone looks out for us. And that should be our employers first.

  • Cheryl

    I am not a nurse, lets be clear on that. However, I am a health care professional in Canada. Yes there are many jobs out there that are stressful and long hours, and it takes a whole world of people with different gifts working in every job field to make this world function.
    However, you have no right to degrade nurses or this family. I like to think he is not doing this for the money but, unfortunately, money talks. There are soo many hospitals who are understaffed and its such a ripple effect. The patients are effect as they wait incredible amounts of time to be seen and treated, drs and nurses are effected as they work long hours shortstaffed (so double work load), tons of overtime, the medics are stuck on offload delay causing a shortage of ambulances on the road for 911 calls and families of the staff are also effected as they deal with the mental and physical effects of over exhaustion on top of the normal emotional baggage. Unfortunatly, often times thenonly way for change to happen is when something bad like this happens. This is probably the only way the hospital will actually take things seriously and make change to increase staffing and decrease the workload and overtime of their staff.
    Do I agree it should be a lawsuit, unsure, but whuwt I do know is there needs to be change. If you could choose a nurse who works 5 8hr shifts a week or a nurse who works tons of overtime, is at the end of a 15 hr shift, tired hungry, feeling the weight of the last few patients who died, and missing her family …which would you pick? Cuz you don’t get that choice and often times its nurse option b that is taking care of you. Mind you they do a dang good job but this is when accidents happen. Change needs to hapen.

  • Cheryl

    And by the way its not just nurses who are having this understaffing, overworked problem. Its a reality of most jobs in health care. Its a reality of many jobs in many fields, but like someone mentioned, when the decisions you make could be a choice of life or death (as it is in my job) you don’t need to have unnecessary overworked and understaffed employees. Thoughts and prayers go to the family. I hope if nothing, that change happens and other hospitals follow. As to everyone in the health care profession and all the emergency services, police, paramedics and fire…thank you.

  • decisions

    I also am a registered nurse in a level 1 trauma center and started as a Army medic 25 years ago at 17, became an LPN, then an RN.
    To those who believe that other jobs are more ‘hazardous’ etc… you MAY be accurate… only because it isn’t a burning building or pulling over potentially dangerous drivers etc…. HOWEVER….
    WE are the ones that deal every day with the unpredictable behaviours of all humans. I have seen hiv positive patients spit at nurses, I have seen pt’s bite nurses, I have seen a nurse slammed against a wall, I have had pts crawl up into vent shafts, I have had an incarcerated pt jump up from a bed n grab the officers weapon n fire, I have had the 2 people that beat a woman to death show up in the ICU, I have had angry gang members mass rush a trauma unit and bust out ER windows requiring hospital security as well as local police and hospital police to settle,… then there are the hazards of body fluids of every possible social level, class, age, color, religion etc and the needles and equipment used on them and being stuck with them , or splashed with or by them etc. A fire is a known and obvious hazard… people are unpredictable and add to that disease, illness, trauma, chemical imbalances, medications etc and you create a potentially endless array of hazards and each one dealt with by a nurse. Prayerfully you will understand that your nurse is at bedside 8-16 hours each day… and that they (thankfully) do NOT just sit back & “just do as the Dr tells them”… Dr’s may have several years of quality schooling, but there is NOTHING that compares to experience. I’ve seen many an ICU nurse save pt’s lives by their observations and assessment skills as well as drawing question to a Dr’s order.
    A fireman may have a dangerous job, but few jobs place ours, maybe some of the ‘less informed’ responders to this post, & every other citizens health and well being at their discretion and judgement at any given time…. from the pres, to a vagrant, or murderer. We can single handedly make your life better or worse with all of those orders a Dr writes… for what you MAY not know… many Dr’s do not even know HOW to properly carry out or administer many of the drugs or procedurss they order… they know its use etc… but a nurse will admonister it. Often (most often) it will also be a nurse who will explain all of the procedures and medical jargon a Dr uses to you, as you sit there blank faced and despondent because you don’t have a clue what to do or what was just said… long after that Dr has vanished.
    A nurse…. will even take care of that Navy Seal, that Airborne Ranger, that grunt, pilot, or that Dr who is a patient, or our own other nurses, with our goal to do our best, and help others, despite their ignorance of the fact that my mom had just died, we have a sick child at home, our home is a disaster, a parent or spouse is a cancer pt… yet we are expected to arrive at our job and be cordial and respect folks that are rude, swearing, expecting things of us that they or the pt don’t even do for themselves. Folks will be 450 lbs and not get up at home, yet we must turn them every 2 hours. We care for other’s family, when we may not get to do that for our own. And if you think that the job we do is worth less pay than the average plumber… how about you go ask THEM to pass your meds and do dressings and help when you’re in pain or having a heart attack or bleeding or in shock, or struggling to breathe… I Dare say… I’ll take a nurse ANY DAY…Even a Dr (at least any good one) will tell you, without nurses even their job is pointless, because nothing would get done without them!
    Proud to be a nurse! Despite the ignorance of many of just how valuable we are.
    ROCK on NURSES!

  • Mary Downs

    Some of you would sing a different tune if the nurse did not die, If a patient died due to nurses being over worked and schedules are not properly thought out, you all would be outraged!
    Fatigue is truly a reason for mistakes to happen,And get this employers know this! There are proven studies about this subject.
    This is not the first nurse to die driving after working a long shift. I get up at 3 am to open a unit at 430 am. I work a long day and so do my co-workers. We do this because of the need of patients and the need to cover the unit. Under staffing is a huge stress! Get another job? Really, you want dedicated people in health care, emergency personnel and law enforcement to find new jobs, instead of fixing these issues??
    Try to think of the big picture here. What do you think makes sense ? Fix the issue at hand? Or have more fatalities?
    I applaud him starting this suit, It is bringing awareness for the need of change. This change effects everyone including you and your families!

  • RN

    My deepest condolences to the family of the nurse who was killed. No amout of money will ever be able to replace her to her husband and children. This is truely about making change so no other families need to suffer. I too am a nurse in an ER dept in Canada and the same problems exist here. I once actually had a patient complain about waiting while the patient in the next bed was in cardiac arrest, Their comment at that time was” and that makes him more important than me?” I couldn’t even respond to that kind of a person – so I also won’t waste my time on responding to people like greg, jenny and kyle. But to all the nurses and other health care professionals who give far more than they ever receive because they care about the patients, we do what we do because we think we can make a difference. Yes it is our choice to work long shifts and overtime and come on our day off to care for others.It isn’t our choice to be disrespected by our management,- coworkers, our physicians and mostly our patients and their families. We do the best we can do with what we have. We don’t walk away from someone in need because our shift is over. We dont leave our coworkers stranded because 3 nurses called in sick and there is no one available to replace them. We stay and try to do the best we can. So if you are sitting in the waiting room with your non life threatening emergency and it seems to be taking along time, perhaps you should feel fortunate that you arent the one the nurses are all busy trying to resuscitate.Thank you to all emergency service workers,health care professionals for all that you give up to provide the best you can for your communities. To all health care workers for Dr’s , nurses, ward clerks and unit aides. We all work as a team to provide the best care we can. We don’t expect anyone to give us a standing ovation at the end of the day just a simple smile and a thank you would be nice once in awhile.

  • Elizabeth

    They federally regulated pilots to ensure they weren’t totally exhausted while flying, it only makes sense that regulations to ensure nurses aren’t overworked should happen! Pilots too sleepy to land a plane are no different than exhausted nurses pushing strong medications into IVs, or trying to drive home after a series of exhausting long shifts. I applaud this husband, his efforts are more than just a financial score, he is trying to transform an industry. Bravo!

  • someguy

    To the people who are saying ypu can’t just say no to the administration about working long hours without breaks…actually you can. There are laws protecting you just for those causes. If the company schedules you for more than an allotted time in a day you are required to take x amount of minutes per hours worked. If that company fires you for insubordination then you have a lawsuit because the company did not obey their rules. Every company has osha standards and other things like that posted somewhere for every employee to see. If not, that is a violation. I understand the job may be stressful and very demanding, but don’t sit thereblindly and say you ccan’t refuse certain requests that could harm your body because you can.

  • RN

    in response to some guy…. i don’t think anyone said they are not allowed to take breaks. its that the work load is sooo big that there isn’t time. Sure i could walk away whenever i feel tired or hungry or need to go to the bathroom, but when a cancer patient is needing pain medication or an elderly patient is about to crawl over the bed rails or someone asks to to help them to the bathroom, you just can’t walk away. Yes, some nurses would just walk away and ignore these pleas, and think of their own needs first, and then we are labelled uncompassionate, uncaring people. Most however would take the time to help others before helping themselves. We are nurses because we care about people and their quality of life. We don’t go to work just so we can collect the paycheck at the end of the week. We give up our breaks and lunches, our days off because we know that our patients need us, and if we don’t, who will? We give up our Christmas dinners with our own families, miss our childrens sporting events and school plays because we don’t want you and your families to suffer any more than they already do with their health related conditions. We try to gulp down a coffee and a bite to eat at the desk just so we can keep going and continue to provide the care that you need as best as we can under the most trying conditions. Recently I missed all my breaks in a 12 hr shift to help a team try to revive a 2 yr old little girl and to hold her mother in my arms while she begged me not to stop trying. To help her go to her lifeless little body and help her to say good bye. Are you suggesting that,even though i am entitled to a break, i tell her im leaving her to do these things on her own because its time for my break? There is never a good time, there is always someone who needs something, We don’t take time for ourselves because we would rather give it to our patients. On the rare occasion someone will bring the nurses a tray of coffee or a box of donuts. It is so much appreciated. But more often we have to take patients and their families yelling at us, being sworn at, having things thrown at us, being humiliated and degraded by the people we are doing our best to serve. I have heard too often, we pay your wages, or we helped build this hospital. Do you really think we want people to have to wait to get a bed, see a doctor, or get the tests they need? The reality is we don’t have an unlimited amount of staff or resources.We can’t just get more doctors or nurses to come. We have to do the best we can with what we’ve got. We are an amazing group of health care professionals trying to do the best we can and giving as much as we possibly can to help other. We are nurses and thats what we do!

  • nancy

    Well, I have to say, I have been an RN actively employed for 45 years. I love being a nurse and making a difference in someone’s life, easing pain, smothering, vomiting and all sorts of symptoms. I feel privileged and honored to be invited into the most intimate part of a family’s life when a loved is dying. Nursing is a calling, not a job for the money, and when you answer the call, you do what it takes. i have been kicked in the pregnant belly, spat on, cursed, backed into a corner and slapped repeatedly, unable to defend myself, “because it was a patient” and I knew that. I have worked many days without a break, meal or bathroom break because the needs never stopped. As far as our job not being dangerous, I visit dying people in homes where known drug abusers reside. I have had to take a deputy with me for protection more than once. Yes I have stayed over for another shift, because nurses can be sued for abandonment if no one is there to relieve us and we leave because it is time. Time [ for ourselves] is of no importance when someone is dying, in crisis or some other need. I have always said “Nursing is a wonderful choice for anyone who has no family, never intends to marry or have life, because it will drain the life out of you.”

  • dan

    As the child of a nurse, and now operating as one of the people kyle degraded, my mother had it much rougher than I ever will. Sure I work long hours day in and day out training for missions, but she went on mission every single day and night that she worked. My brothers’ lives may be in my hands from time to time, but more often than not, our missions go as planned. Her missions were planned when she started shift, and almost always something went awry. Most people aren’t in the hospital for simple issues, those can be addressed outside of that environment. Patients are all too often complicated cases, and the nurses are the ones tasked to care for each detail of a patient’s need. We don’t have any children yet, so I don’t know what its like to miss your child’s events or have to leave them because you receive a phone call, but I know that when that day comes, the call I will receive will be no more important than the thousands my mother received during my childhood. A profession is a relatively high status occupation whose members develop and apply abstract [expert] knowledge as human expertise to solve problems in a particular field of endeavor. Until you have dedicated your life to a profession, medical, military, law and law enforcement, or education, you will never understand the sacrifices your fellow Americans have made so that many can collect their unemployment and troll the internet.

  • Sharon Sloan

    Sorry I came to this late. @Kyle: “Just shut up and do what the doctor tells you to do.”

    Sure, I’d love to. Of course, working at a teaching hospital, and having prevented and seen other nurses prevent patients from being harmed by orders given (or not given when needed) by inexperienced (or lazy) doctors, I’ll save that little tidbit of advice for when you’re my patient.

    “Yeah, I know you’re allergic to morphine and all, but the doctor ordered it so I’m going to give it to you. He didn’t order any Benadryl for the anaphylaxis you’re going to experience, or Narcan to reverse the over-sedation you may suffer, but feel free to remind him next time you see him. If you’re still around. I’d remind him that this is a bad idea, and I’d love to refuse to give it since it’s professionally irresponsible. Certainly, as a trained professional I have a responsibility to be your advocate when the doctor screws up, but you already told me to shut up and do what he said. Oh, first I need you to sign this consent form so I can cover my butt when this hits the fan… OK, just a little stick, now!”

    :-) Enjoy!

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