Medical errors that occur while patients are in a post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) can result in serious injuries, disabilities, and deaths.
What is a PACU Unit?
All hospitals that perform surgical procedures on patients have a post-anesthesia care unit (PACU). The PACU is considered to be a critical care unit for high-risk patients who require postoperative care. By isolating these patients to special units, hospitals can free up more ICU beds for emergency and post-operative admissions.
When a patient undergoes a surgical procedure under general anesthesia, the patient is transferred to the PACU after surgery. Since a PACU is considered critical care, highly trained nurses are required to ensure a patient’s safety. PACU nurses oversee and closely monitor post-operative patients while they are regaining consciousness from anesthesia. These nurses are highly-trained to watch for any signs of breathing difficulties, irregular heart rates, high blood pressure, mental confusion, and agitation.
PACU Staffing Ratios
Typically, PACU patients in major hospitals have a 1:1 staffing ratio (1 patient per 1 nurse). In larger units, the staffing ratio may be 2:1 (2 patients per 1 nurse) or 3:1 (3 patients per 1 nurse). When ratios become higher than 3:1, patients’ risks for surgical complications increase significantly. Nurses required to monitor too many patients are prone to medical errors. Medical malpractice lawyers often see post-operative injuries and fatalities related to understaffed PACUs and improperly trained PACU nurses. When a patient experiences life-threatening problems during anesthesia recovery in an understaffed PACU, other patients are not being carefully monitored.
PACU Complications and Medical Errors
PACU patients coming out of anesthesia can experience a variety of health complications. The most common one is upper airway obstruction caused by improper upper airway support through ventilation tubes. Other common problems include hypertension; heart palpitations; tachycardia; cardiac arrest; strokes; and brain damage due to lack of oxygen.
PACU patients rely on specially trained PACU nurses to ensure their safety as they recover and wake up from surgery. Nurses must be highly trained in several critical duties, including:
- Managing oxygen supplies
- Monitoring vital signs
- Managing postoperative pain
- Changing surgical bandages
- Watching for bleeding, swelling, and infections
- Treating nausea and vomiting
When these duties are handled improperly or in an untimely manner, medical malpractice lawyers witness life-threatening injuries and wrongful death claims for PACU patients. Many patients have to be intubated due to anaphylaxis, pulmonary edema, and long-term exposure to anesthesia, and strong prescription drugs.