New York law prohibits nurses from committing what is commonly referred to as "abandonment" or "patient abandonment". Abandonment typically occurs when:
- A nurse, who has accepted a patient care assignment and is responsible for patient care, abandons or neglects a patient needing immediate professional care without making reasonable arrangements for the continuation of such are.
- A nurse abandons nursing employment without providing reasonable notice and under circumstances that seriously impair the delivery of professional care to patients.
The New York State Education Department (NYSED) evaluates each complaint of patient abandonment individually, taking into consideration the unique circumstances of each situation. Key considerations for determining whether or not a nurse has "abandoned" a patient include:
- Whether the nurse accepted the patient assignment, which established a nurse-patient relationship.
- Whether the nurse provided reasonable notice when severing the nurse-patient relationship.
- Whether reasonable arrangements have been made for the continuation of nursing care by others when proper notification is given.
Some examples of patient abandonment include the following:
- A nurse assigned to provide resident care in a nursing home walks off duty in the middle of the shift without telling anyone and does not return, seriously impairing the delivery of nursing care to the residents.
- A circulating nurse leaves the operating room during a surgical procedure without transferring responsibility for nursing care to another qualified healthcare practitioner, seriously impairing the delivery of surgical care.
- A private RN suddenly stops providing nursing care to a home bound patient without notifying anyone and without making any arrangements to ensure that the patient will continue to receive needed care.
- A nurse who works on a hospital pediatric unit informs the unit clerk that she must leave work immediately. The nurse immediately leaves the hospital for the day without telling anyone else, even though some of the nurse's patients require immediate nursing care. Since the nurse failed to transfer her responsibility for the nursing care for her patients to another qualified health care practitioner by reporting on her patients, other hospital staff were unaware of the immediate care needs of the nurse's patients.
The following situations are not usually considered to be patient abandonment.
- A nurse promptly refuses her supervisor's request to float to unfamiliar hospital unit because she lacks the experience to competently carry out the assignment. The hospital did not provide the nurse with any training or orientation to the hospital unit and does not modify the nursing assignment (so that the nurse who must float provides only services the nurse is competent to perform).
- An LPN immediately refuses his supervisor's request to float to a hospital Emergency Room to perform triage (which is outside the legal scope of practice of an LPN).
- In a non-emergency situation, a nurse promptly refuses her supervisor's request to accept an assignment to work additional hours beyond the posted work schedule (i.e., a double shift)
- In a non-emergency situation, a nurse completes his assigned shift at a nursing home and then notifies his employer that he is quitting, effective immediately.
- The nurse fails to return to work at a nursing home after a scheduled leave of absence and the nursing home is not experiencing staff shortages.
- A nurse agrees to work four hours longer her scheduled shift due to an emergency. After working overtime, the nurse refuses the supervisor's request to work additional hours because the nurse is too exhausted to continuing to practice safely and informs his or supervisor that he or she is too exhausted to work safely.
NYSED investigates complaints of professional misconduct against nurses and, with advice from a Member of the New York State Board for Nursing, decides whether to charge a nurse with professional misconduct for abandonment. The New York State Board of Regents Determines whether or not a nurse has committed professional misconduct for abandoning patients. Although health care providers (including a nurse's employer) may file complaints with NYSED, they do not determine whether a nurse will be charged with professional misconduct for abandonment or whether a nurse has committed professional misconduct for patient abandonment.
NYSED does not have jurisdiction to mediate employment disputes or contract disputes between nurses and health care employers, health care providers or patients.