Judge awards jobless benefits to prison nurse involved in vaccine overdose

By: - October 5, 2021 11:22 am

Madison County and a community health organization are facing a wrongful death lawsuit over the 2020 suicide of a jail inmate. (Photo by Getty Images)

One of the Iowa nurses fired for mistakenly giving prison inmates six times the normal dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has been awarded jobless benefits.

Amanda Dodson, who began working for the Iowa Department of Corrections in 2003, was fired in May after she alerted her superiors to a mistake that resulted in 77 inmates of the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison being given six times the amount of COVID-19 vaccine they were supposed to receive.

According to Iowa Workforce Development records, Dodson’s supervisor, Tasha Whalen, sent Dodson an email on April 13 letting her know that the prison had received the Pfizer vaccine to be administered to the people incarcerated at the prison.  Whalen later asked Dodson and another nurse,  later identified by the DOC as Stephen Sherman, to administer the vaccine to inmates in Housing Unit 2.

Sherman had over 30 years of experience, but was in new-hire probationary status at the time. Dodson asked Sherman which part of the process he would like to do – drawing up the vaccine, or administering the vaccine and have the recipients complete forms for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Corrections.

Sherman chose to draw up the vaccine, which entailed  putting the component parts together, drawing the medicine out of the vial into a syringe, and then handing the syringe to Dodson. Dodson then took the filled syringe from the other nurse, administered the vaccine, and had the recipients complete the two forms.

In total, the two administered the vaccine to 77 people, after which Dodson and the other nurse returned to the prison’s medical building. Dodson looked in the medical refrigerator to retrieve more of the vaccine so she and Sherman could finish their assigned task. Seeing no vaccine in the refrigerator, she located a Pfizer vial, read the dosing information on it, and realized she and the other nurse had administered six times the recommended dose of the vaccine.

Dodson reported the incident to her supervisor, who contacted the on-site doctor, the head pharmacist, the CDC and Pfizer. Dodson then went back to the Housing Unit 2 and told each person to whom she had given the vaccine about the error. The prison sent other nurses to the unit to monitor the people who had been given the vaccine.

The next day, the DOC placed Dodson on administrative leave. Prison officials publicly acknowledged the incident and said none of the inmates had been hospitalized, but were suffering from ailments typical of people who reported adverse reactions to the vaccine, such as body aches and low-grade fever.

On May 10, the acting warden, Chris Tripp, called Dodson and told her that she was fired due to a medication error. Dodson’s termination letter said the DOC’s investigation had concluded Dodson violated work rules and policies, appeared unfamiliar with essential duties of her job, and did not respond properly to the incident. Sherman was also fired, according to the DOC.

Dodson appealed her dismissal, and she also filed a claim for unemployment benefits, which the DOC challenged.

At an administrative hearing on the request for unemployment benefits, Whalen testified that Dodson should have known, based on her nurse’s training, how to administer the correct dose of the vaccine and should have taken steps to ensure the proper dosage was prepared.

Administrative Law Judge Daniel Zero ruled in favor of Dodson, stating that even if the DOC was justified in firing Dodson, that didn’t mean she had committed the sort of misconduct that would disqualify her from collecting benefits. Zeno pointed out that under Iowa law, a fired worker cannot be denied benefits for isolated instances of ordinary negligence.

“The conduct for which Ms. Dodson was discharged was (an) incident of poor judgment,” Zeno ruled. “Without a doubt, a medication error was made resulting in 77 people receiving more than the recommended dose of the vaccine. However, the fact that a mistake was made, and the mistake impacted many people, does not, on its own, mean Ms. Dodson engaged in misconduct … Ordinary negligence is all that is proven here.”

 

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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