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Nurse Who Gave Iowa Inmates Vaccine Overdoses Appeals Firing

This July 1, 2017 file photo, shows the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, Iowa.
John Lovretta
AP File
One of two Iowa prison nurses fired for accidentally giving dozens of inmates large overdoses of the coronavirus vaccine is appealing her termination, arguing she is "blameless" for the mix-up.

One of two Iowa prison nurses fired for accidentally giving dozens of inmates large overdoses of the coronavirus vaccine is appealing her termination, arguing she is “blameless” for the mix-up.

The Iowa Department of Corrections fired Amanda Dodson, a registered nurse at the maximum-security Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, after an investigation found 77 inmates received shots containing up to six times the recommended dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Dodson’s termination letter, obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request, blamed her for “improper COVID vaccination procedures” that resulted in inmates receiving overdoses on April 20.

The department said inmates reported side effects associated with the vaccine such as body aches and fevers, but none were sick enough to require hospitalization and all later recovered.

Without specifying how the overdoses happened, the May 10 letter signed by Acting Warden Chris Tripp said an investigation concluded that Dodson violated a host of employee work rules and policies. It suggested she was inattentive and unfamiliar with essential duties, failed to properly administer medications, and did not respond properly to a “medication incident,” among other things.

The letter ordered Dodson to turn in her state-issued uniform and badge before receiving her final paycheck May 21. State records show she had worked at the prison since at least 2004, starting as a radiological technologist before becoming a registered nurse in 2013. She earned $75,252 in 2020.

Dodson and Council 61 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union representing prison staff, appealed her firing earlier this month. The appeal to the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board argues that Dodson was unjustly terminated, and asked that she be reinstated with back pay and “held blameless for this incident.”

Union spokesman Troy Price said the overdoses happened after the prison abruptly switched from using the Moderna vaccine to the Pfizer version. Pfizer packages its vaccines in vials that contain six doses apiece and must be diluted with saline solution before use. Moderna’s vaccine does not require dilution.

Price said the nurses were given 90 minutes notice and no training on the change in how the new vaccines were to be prepared and delivered before they were to begin administering shots.

“The Department of Corrections has an obligation to ensure proper training of its employees and they should have notified the nurses earlier and provided adequate training,” he said.

Department spokesman Cord Overton said the agency expects its nurses to be able to read and follow instructions for administering vaccines to those under their care. He said nurses also have an obligation to stop and seek clarification if they are unsure about procedures.

“Failing to hold ourselves accountable to minimum expectations can result in the absolute worst of outcomes,” he said.

Dodson, of West Point, didn’t return messages seeking comment Thursday.

The department also fired Stephen Sherman of Carthage, Ill., a registered nurse who was still in his six-month probationary period. His termination letter did not cite any reason for his firing, but the department confirmed to AP he was let go for his role in the vaccine mix-up. Sherman hasn’t returned phone messages seeking comment.

The Des Moines Register first reported on the overdoses and that two identified nurses were later fired for them. The department has refused to release its full investigative findings, claiming they are confidential.

An administrative law judge will hold a closed hearing on Dodson’s termination and recommend to the board whether the department had “just cause” to fire her. The process can be long and costly: the department was recently ordered to reinstate and shell out $195,000 in back pay to a Clarinda prison employee who the board ruled was wrongly terminated in 2017.