Schiavo nurse may lose license
The state says she broke the rules by discussing the case on national television.
By LORRI HELFAND
Published July 13, 2006
The state wants to revoke the license of a nurse who cared for Terri Schiavo because she discussed Schiavo's medical condition on national TV.
Carla Sauer-Iyer said on CNN and other stations last year that Schiavo laughed, told the staff she was in pain, said "Mommy" and "Help me" and ate pudding and milkshakes.
Schiavo, for years the center of national controversy, died March 31, 2005, 13 days after her feeding tube was removed.
Now the Florida Health Department says Sauer-Iyer, 42, a registered nurse who works in Lakeland, improperly disclosed confidential patient information.
Sauer-Iyer, who worked for Palm Garden of Largo as a licensed practical nurse while Schiavo was there, said she was only rehashing on TV what she said in two affidavits, one of which she provided at the request of Gov. Jeb Bush's legal team.
"This was my First Amendment right," she said.
The state disagrees.
Divulging confidential patient information violates state code and federal law, said Florida Health Department spokesman Doc Kokol.
The case against Sauer-Iyer began on March 28, 2005, when the Health Department received a complaint from a Massachusetts registered nurse who said Sauer-Iyer made "unsubstantiated comments" on CNN "that with 'just a little bit of therapy' Mrs. Schiavo could be rehabilitated."
Two months ago, the state offered to settle the complaint if Sauer-Iyer gave up her nursing license, paid up to $1,683 in administrative costs and agreed not to apply for a license in the future.
Sauer-Iyer refused and requested an administrative hearing. No date has been set for that hearing.
"It will kill me if I can't practice nursing, if I can't help people have a fair chance at rehabilitation and help people get better," said Sauer-Iyer of Plant City.
Michael Schiavo, who bore the brunt of Sauer-Iyer's accusations, said she "violated her oath" and "is getting what she deserves."
Sauer-Iyer stated in affidavits that Michael Schiavo often was gleeful when his wife was sick, blurting out statements like, "I'm going to be rich!" She also quoted him saying, "When is that b---- gonna die?"
Sauer-Iyer is lying, Michael Schiavo said.
"Where's the proof?" asked Schiavo, 43, a registered nurse and registered respiratory therapist. "Why would she be the only one that ever heard that?"
While federal privacy regulations allow the release of patient information in some judicial proceedings, that doesn't open the door to discussing it on TV or elsewhere, said George Annas, chairman of the department of health law, bioethics and human rights at Boston University School of Public Health.
Seven years after she cared for Schiavo, Sauer-Iyer said in affidavits that Schiavo communicated clearly, ate from a baby bottle and chuckled when Sauer-Iyer told her humorous stories.
"If that ever happened, it was never on my shift," said Carolyn "Andi" Adams, 68, a licensed practical nurse who worked at Palm Garden at the time.
The chances of Schiavo recovering the ability to talk, clothe herself or take care of her bodily needs "were close to zero," said Dr. Leon Prockop, a professor of neurology at the University of South Florida who has reviewed Terri Schiavo's CT scans and her postmortem neurological report. "The brain cells that serve those functions were not present in her brain."
Sauer-Iyer said she filed a report with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in 1996 saying she found a vial of insulin in the trash after Michael Schiavo visited Terri Schiavo.
The Sheriff's Office has no record of the complaint, but does have a July 23, 1996, report in which Sauer-Iyer said Adams may have put threatening notes on her car. Adams said she knew nothing of that.
Sauer-Iyer's affidavit said she regularly informed Terri Schiavo's parents about their daughter's condition in the mid 1990s.
In response to the affidavit, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer concluded that it's "impossible to believe" that Terri Schiavo's parents wouldn't have subpoenaed her to testify years earlier.
On Oct. 17, 2003, two days after Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed the second time, Sauer-Iyer filed a complaint to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office about Michael Schiavo, saying she found a vial of insulin in a trash can after he visited Terri one day in 1996, but saw no syringes and never saw anyone give Schiavo a shot.
State investigators reviewed nine years of medical records but found no signs of any problems with Terri Schiavo's glucose levels, which would be affected had she received insulin injections, according to records released in April 2005.
On March 18, 2005, Terri's feeding tube was removed for the third time. That week, Sauer-Iyer made her claims on CNN and other TV shows.
Sauer-Iyer thinks she's being persecuted because of her involvement in the case but said she has no regrets even if she loses her license.
"I live a 24-karat life," Sauer-Iyer said. "I have clean hands. I'll be disappointed, but I'll know I've done the right thing."
Researchers Cathy Wos and Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 445-4155.
[Last modified July 13, 2006, 05:35:03]
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