I-Team: Fired Nurse Ready to Return to Work - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Fired Nurse Ready to Return to Work

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Jessica Rice Jessica Rice

LAS VEGAS -- A neonatal nurse who was fired during an investigation into a baby's death says she can't wait to go back to work. Late last month, an arbitrator ordered Sunrise Hospital to reinstate Jessica Rice, finding she was wrongfully terminated.

The arbitrator's decision requires Sunrise Hospital to give her her old job back, but it can't remove the cloud of suspicion that follows her still. Instead of "person of interest," Rice hopes now a new label of "innocent person" will attach to her name.

"The monster mentality that was built up -- the death angels, the 'You murdered your patient,' it's hard to get over," she said.

Until July of 2010, Rice assumed she had endured life's most damaging name calling in high school. But when a premature infant in her care died due to blood loss from a broken catheter, she again found herself ducking verbal sticks and stones. But this time, they came from her employer.

"We were just there. We were the scapegoats," she said.

Sunrise identified Rice and her former co-worker Sharon Reyes as possible suspects in an investigation into a series of broken catheters in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Catheters are tiny tubes used to carry medication and nutrition.

The Metro Police Department followed suit, naming the two nurses as "persons of interest," a label that temporarily cost them their nursing licenses and then their jobs.

But after more than a year and a half, neither have faced any formal charges and now an arbitrator has concluded Rice was wrongfully terminated.

"We think it was a just result," said Rice's attorney Kathleen Jones.

Jones credits the nurse's union, the SEIU, for the arbitration victory and questions why Sunrise singled out the nurses without first ruling out whether the tiny tubes were defective.

"If that's a possibility or a probability, you would think that you would do your due diligence and figure out, is it the product, before going on and accusing someone of intentionally harming a baby," said Jones.

In addition to the physical and emotional toll, Rice explains the allegations devastated her financially. She filed for bankruptcy, cleaned out most of her 401K, and had to fight the hospital for her unemployment benefits.

But after nine months of looking, today she has a new job she loves and also looks forward to returning to the one she lost.

"I'm sure with administration, I'm sure I'm going to be scrutinized. I'm sure I'm going to be looked at. I'm sure I'm going to have a target on my back. But I know that I'm a damn good nurse and I know that I do my job well, so they can look all they want, they aren't going to find a damn thing," she said.

The arbitrator's decision requires Sunrise to reinstate Rice and to pay back wages. In a written statement, the hospital said " We respect the arbitration process and have reviewed the findings of

the arbitrator. We also respect the confidentiality of personnel matters and keep them private."

The hospital also says it continues to assist the Metro in their investigation. It is a not so subtle jab, says Rice, from the grown-up version of a schoolyard bully.

"It's been a hard fight and it's been a hard battle and I didn't do anything wrong and I will do anything that I can to prove that," she said. "I plan on walking in there with my head held high."

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