Whatcom County nurse who caused death of patient in Bellingham has license reinstated

The state Department of Health has reinstated the license of a Whatcom County registered nurse who was suspended for causing the death of a Bellingham nursing home patient.

Tina M. Brightwell’s license was suspended after she gave a patient 10 times the amount of morphine authorized by the physician. The patient, who died in February 2015, was receiving “end-of-life care” at Avamere Bellingham Health Care and Rehabilitation Services, 1200 Birchwood Ave. The cause of death was determined to be a morphine overdose and nursing medication error.

That death came two months after Brightwell was put on probation when another patient died, partially as a result of nursing errors, a Department of Health spokesperson said in 2015.

Brightwell, officials said, had not worked at the facility since the second patient died. She had worked for the company, Avamere Health Services, for about 30 years, a company spokeswoman said last year.

Brightwell, according to Department of Health records, was originally issued her license in 1980.

Washington law allowed Brightwell to request the reinstatement of her license after one year, according to a statement from the state Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission. But the reinstatement does not allow her to return to nursing immediately. She’ll still need to complete a “lengthy and expensive” refresher course, the commission said.

“This was undoubtedly a medication error with tragic consequences,” the commission said. “The NCQAC took fast action to protect the public. If this nurse is able to complete the lengthy education, her practice will be very closely monitored to assure public protection.”

Kyle Mittan: 360-756-2803, @KyleMittan