By Dominique Dodley
NEW YORK (CNN) -- An Ohio man whose wife died in a car accident earlier this year is suing the hospital where she was a nurse, claiming she was "worked to death," and that the hospital knew about it.
Jim Jasper's wife, Beth, was killed on March 16 while driving home after a 12-hour shift.
The wrongful death lawsuit, filed last week, alleges that from 2011 to the time of her death, Beth Jasper's unit at the Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati was "regularly understaffed," causing some nurses, including Jasper, to work through breaks and pick up additional shifts.
Additionally, Jasper was routinely called into work while off duty because she was one of the few nurses qualified to work the unit's dialysis machines, according to the suit.
"It needs to change. These nurses cannot be treated this way," Jim Jasper told CNN affiliate WCPO, referring to the conditions he says led to his wife's death. "They can't continue to work these nurses and expect them to pick up the slack because they don't want to staff the hospitals."
Staff shortages and overextended shifts for nurses are a nationwide issue, according to National Nurses United, the nation's largest union representing registered nurses, with nearly 185,000 members throughout the country. But wrongful death litigation stemming from staffing issues is unusual.
"Chronic understaffing is rampant throughout hospitals around the country," said Bonnie Castillo, the union's government relations director. "It is probably the single biggest issue facing nurses nowadays, and it's not only affecting nurses, but patient health as well."
Jim Jasper's attorney, Eric Deters, said Beth Jasper may have fallen asleep before her car veered off the road, jumped an embankment and struck a tree. During her final shift, according to the lawsuit, Beth Jasper told other nurses she was "really stressed" and "hadn't eaten."
The lawsuit alleges that fatigue from being overworked contributed to the death of the 38-year-old mother of two.
"This is just a tragic situation," Deters said Tuesday. "The hospital clearly did not take care of its own people, and it did so deliberately."
Jasper's lawsuit claims that hospital staffers, including his wife's supervisor, were aware of the staffing problems and alerted the hospital's parent company, Mercy Health Group. Her supervisor expressed concern to superiors that Beth Jasper was being "worked to death," yet the hospital did nothing to deal with the staffing issue, the suit said.
Nanette Bentley, a spokeswoman for Mercy Health Group, expressed sympathy for the family, but declined to comment on pending litigation.
Castillo, the union representative, said "safe staffing ratios" of nurses to patients remain largely unregulated in the United States.
California is the only state with safe staffing ratio laws, Castillo said. The law requires nurses on general medical or surgical floors to care for no more than five patients at a time, and nurses in intensive care units to care for no more than two. The law has been in effect since 2004.
The union has pushed for safe staffing legislation around the country.
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