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Midwife's Nursing License Revoked for Negligence

March 25, 1989|LUCILLE RENWICK | Times Staff Writer

A state board has revoked the nursing license of a midwife accused of negligence in two stillbirths, including one by a San Clemente woman after almost 24 hours of labor.

After a 5-week hearing in San Diego, Administrative Law Judge Ronald M. Gruen on Thursday found Abigail Odam, 45, of Del Mar to be "grossly negligent and incompetent" and recommended the revocation of her license effective today. The state Board of Registered Nursing agreed with Gruen's decision and revoked the license.

Odam, who was a licensed registered nurse, practiced midwifery for about 3 years, mostly in San Diego County, her attorney said. She had never received her certification as a midwife, but had been working toward it, he said.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Melanie J. Muckle said the nursing board received numerous complaints about Odam, but the most serious came from Darlene Caughey, 38, of San Clemente, whose son was stillborn in February. Odam also had been blamed for the stillbirth of a child in 1986.

Five Women Testified

Five women testified against Odam about their experiences, but much of the case rested on Caughey's testimony about the stillbirth of her child which, she said, could have been prevented had Odam not ignored signs that her baby was in distress during delivery.

"During the whole labor process I was led to believe that everything was just fine," Caughey said Friday. "Even when I told her (Odam) about the problems I was having during the labor I was told that I was worrying too much."

According to a suit filed August, 1988, by the state attorney general, Caughey called Odam to her home in February after she began experiencing labor pains. Odam stayed with Caughey for several hours before leaving for another delivery. The next day, as the labor pains persisted, Odam was called, but told Caughey not to worry and said she would be over after she delivered another baby. When Odam arrived she tried unsuccessfully to deliver the baby. Paramedics took Caughey to San Clemente General Hospital, where a doctor performed a Cesarean operation and delivered the stillborn child.

The suit also stated that Odam should have known that Caughey, who had a Cesarean birth in 1984, was not able to have a normal birth in her home.

"It's very hard to talk about the death of a child, and he really didn't need to die," Caughey said. "I'm glad that the state and the registered nurses' board found her grossly negligent."

Filed Civil Suit

Caughey and her husband, Timothy, filed a civil suit against Odam last November for monetary damages. A trial date has not been set and the case is still in the preliminary stages, said Odam's attorney, Steven Keller. Caughey would not comment on that suit.

Keller said although he disagrees with the judge's decision, he will not appeal the case. Odam, he said, will have the opportunity to reapply for a nursing license next year.

"What I think Abby is going to do here is pursue further education (for her certification) and seek a new license within a year," he said. "And I would assume that the board would grant her a new license at some point, but they'd make sure there were some conditions added to it. "

Odam could not be reached for comment.

Violated Order

Muckle sought a temporary restraining order against Odam last October, requiring that she be supervised by a licensed doctor or certified nurse or midwife. In November, 1988, Odam violated the order by delivering a baby without supervision, Muckle said. The court then modified the first restraining order, stating that Odam could no longer practice as a registered nurse outside a licensed hospital.

"She went and hung out her shingle as a midwife, based on what she said were legal standardized procedures," Muckle said of Odam.

"Abby was just an RN (registered nurse). She didn't have the additional" certification, Muckle added. "She was trying to get it, but was practicing before she got it. Basically she was trying to gain the experience on her own instead of getting the proper training. And she was essentially cheating these women out of proper care."

But Keller said Odam was practicing under written, medical procedures.

The judge hearing the suit sidestepped the question of whether Odam was practicing midwifery illegally, and ruled on the question of gross negligence.

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