Hospitals may not be pleasant environments but there are dangers about being discharged too quickly as illustrated by a recent wrongful death case in Virginia.
I have heard about many cases in which hospitals discharge patients too early. In the case of a 78-year-old retired freelance author from Vienna in Virginia, an early discharge had tragic consequences. It is the hospital’s duty to keep you there as long it takes until it you can safely be discharged. This is important because a premature discharge can lead to unneeded injury and even death.
Unfortunately, that is what happened to the 78-year-old woman in September 2011 at the Virginia Hospital Center (VHC) as reported in Virginia Lawyers Weekly. The woman had fallen and broken her wrist and was taken to the hospital for surgery. After the surgery she was admitted to recovery for further observation and O2. Discharge criteria for the recovery area (PACU) is that the patient be weaned off supplemental oxygen and returned to her baseline oxygen saturation level of at least 95 percent on room air prior to discharge, Virginia Lawyers Weekly reported. The anesthesiologist transferred the patient to the PACU with supplemental oxygen and an order for continuous monitoring of her oxygen saturation levels.
In the PACU the decedent was negligently evaluated by a VHC nurse who failed to review anesthesia records, the Virginia Lawyers Weekly report stated. The nurse did not review PACU records, she failed to realize the last oxygen saturation level reading was elevated due to concomitant use of a spirometer, and she failed to report to any physician the patient’s persistent cough, coarse breath sounds, labored speaking, poor color agitation, confusion, memory issues, and disorientation. The nurse then handed the patient off to a “resource nurse.” The discharge nurse only checked two things prior to discharging the patient. She checked that there was a doctor’s order on file to discharge the patient but she did not consider that it was written before the woman’s respiratory problems became apparent, and she verified the discharge meds. She concluded with an informal look at the patient that the patient’s oxygen saturation levels were appropriate for discharge.
About 16 hours later the patient was found dead in bed by her daughter. She had suffered a pulmonary contusion when she fell which was the cause of the respiratory difficulties and the cause of her eventual death.
In a subsequent wrongful death lawsuit, lawyers acting for the patient’s family said the standard practice should have been to keep the patient in the hospital on supplemental oxygen, reset, and supportive care, until the cause of the respiratory problems could be determined. This should have included an X-ray which would have disclosed the contusion. Supportive care in the hospital would have allowed the contusion to heal on its own at which time the patient could be weaned off oxygen and discharged. Had the patient received the standard level of care she would likely be alive today. Although she was 78, she was still active and was walking, gardening, and writing short stories every day. She was still publishing books. She left behind three children and many grandchildren. A jury at Arlington Circuit Court awarded the family of the deceased writer $2.475 million. The deceased’s family was represented by William E. Artz and Andrew J. Waghorn of Arlington, Virginia.
If you have been injured due to a medical mistake in Virginia, call our Virginia medical malpractice attorneys. Each case’s merit is based on its own facts and we cannot guarantee a result, but our lawyers have proven results. I was a member of a legal team that successfully obtained a $46 million verdict for a client who suffered a brain injury. Call Cooper Hurley at 757.455.0077.