Eric Cropp in February 2006 approved a pharmacy technician’s fatal saline solution for 2-year-old Emily Jerry, who was on her final phase of cancer treatment at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.
Cropp was later charged with reckless homicide and involuntary manslaughter. In April, he plead no contest to the latter charge. He could have served five years in prison.
Instead, Cuyahoga County Judge Michael J. Corrigan on Friday sentenced Cropp to six months in a county jail, six months of home detention, three years of probation, 400 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine as well as court costs. Corrigan also wanted Cropp to work with professional organizations to learn from the error.
The final results of the case highlight a stark contrast between the public and prosecutors, who saw the case as justice served, and pharmacy groups that considered the case, at most, a civil matter that because it was handled criminally threatens to damage the industry.
The family of Emily Jerry, a sweet, sunshine-haired, 2-year-old who had beaten cancer, and the county prosecutor accepted the verdict but had hoped for a stronger sentence. Assistant County Prosecutor James A. Gutierrez said the case should be a “wake up call” for medical professionals that “society is not going to accept this kind of behavior.” He called Cropp arrogant, and that he effectively “blew through 10 stop signs.” If Cropp had stopped at one of them, Gutierrez said, the outcome would have been different.
But Gutierrez stressed a line between this case and the idea that the county would want to “criminalize malpractice.” Prosecutors could charge Cropp because the saline solution was mislabeled — a minor misdemeanor that allowed for the broader felony charges.
“The notion we’re criminalizing medical malpractice is a red herring,” Gutierrez said.
Pharmacy trade groups, though, called the prosecution inappropriate and unwarranted. They are preparing a federal pushto try and provide a level of immunity for pharmacists in accidental cases. The say cases like Cropp’s could make pharmacists less likely to report errors and slow systemic change — outcomes that are likely to prevent future tragedies, the institute stated.
“I think the prosecutor has one thing right: all health-care providers should pay attention to this and should be afraid,” said Kelly Vyzral, director of government affairs for the Ohio Pharmacists Association. “This is a terrible precedent to set. You are dealing with human beings and dealing with human error.”
Michael Cohen, president of The Institute for Safe Medication Practices in Philadelphia, called the decision a “disaster” and a “disgrace.”
“I can see really bad things happening in health care because of this,” Cohen said. “This is going to get beyond Cleveland, that’s for sure.”
The Jerry case has sparked reform of pharmacy technician practices along with the prosecution of Cropp, who was stripped of his license in 2007 for his error and 15 subsequent unrelated errors. Ohio legislators passed Emily’s Law, which created licensing and minimum education requirements for pharmacy technicians — a change largely cheered by educators and others in the local industry. A federal version has been introduced.
Also, State Sen. Tim Grendell, who sponsored Ohio’s version Emily’s Law, this year introduced legislation to criminally punish pharmacists who don’t report errors in dispensing dangerous drugs to patients.