You may have heard the term “patient abandonment” before, but what does it really mean — and entail? Patients can be abandoned by physicians and also by nurses. For the purposes of this blog entry, we will focus on patient abandonment by the nursing staff.

You may have noticed during a stay in the hospital that at the beginning of each shift, the nurse on duty gives a report to their replacement about each patient under their care. That nurse may not leave their position until the duty of care for that patient has been handed off to another qualified medical professional. The two exceptions to that responsibility are if the patient gets discharged or transferred to another unit or facility.

Suppose a nurse who has been at work all night is eight hours into a 12-hour shift. They are hungry and in desperate need of a caffeine fix. Things are quiet on the unit. Surely, they could slip off to the cafeteria and grab a quick burger and cup of joe. 

No, they actually couldn’t. Not without first turning the responsibility for their patients over to another nurse. The reason for this is simple. All sorts of things can go wrong fast in a hospital setting. A formerly hale patient can suddenly go into cardiac arrest. Another could go into anaphylactic shock from a medicine interaction or allergy. Without the nurse present who is assigned to that patient, the person could suffer serious harm or even die.

If you suffered an adverse medical event due to patient abandonment by a nurse, you may be able to seek damages by filing a medical malpractice claim.