Crime & Courts

Woman sues Wesley Medical Center in father’s death

Wesley Medical Center (May 9, 2013)
Wesley Medical Center (May 9, 2013) File photo

The daughter of a man who died after two hospital falls is suing Wesley Medical Center for $600,000.

The man fell two days in a row while a patient at Wesley, according to the lawsuit. Medical providers had labeled him a high fall risk.

Wesley would not discuss the lawsuit or provide fall data. Wesley’s attorneys in the case, from Gilliland & Hayes law firm, did not return calls requesting comment.

Donald Carlson is the man at the center of the lawsuit. He passed away in 2013 at age 91. His only child, Donna Sierks, who lives in Phoenix wants Wesley to give her $600,000 for her father’s death.

According to court documents, Carlson went to Wesley Medical Center after a car accident on Aug. 5, 2013. He was transferred to Wesley’s intensive care unit from the Hutchinson Regional Medical Center for minor internal bleeding near his brain and blood clots.

During the transfer, he was alert, joking with staff and not in any distress, according to the lawsuit.

The next morning, a CT scan confirmed his injuries were stable and unchanged, so Carlson was transferred out of the intensive care unit to another floor.

Shortly after the transfer, Carlson was found on the ground with multiple injuries from a fall, the lawsuit claims. He had a 4-centimeter cut above his left eye and follow-up CT scans showed new areas of internal brain bleeding. Nonetheless, the blood clots from the car accident remained stable, the lawsuit says.

The next morning Carlson fell a second time and suffered more injuries including cuts on his arms and eyelid, according to the lawsuit.

His condition, according to the court records, deteriorated after the falls and worsened his confusion and agitation.

Carlson’s daughter said the hospital told her there was nothing more they could do and that Carlson was terminal, according to the lawsuit.

He was then transferred to hospice in Hutchinson where he passed away Aug. 29, 2013 — 3 1/2 weeks after the initial car accident.

Larry Michel, Sierks’ attorney for the case, said hospitals have a heightened obligation to people like Carlson who are more vulnerable to falls.

“We’re generally claiming they were negligent in properly supervising him and assuring that he wouldn’t fall,” Michel said about Wesley. “That’s about as specific I can get at this time.”

Wesley’s attorneys filed a written answer to Michel’s claims denying the accusations and saying that Wesley was not responsible for actions of its individual health care providers, citing a Kansas law for its defense.

But Michel said that law doesn’t apply to this case. He said the law only applies to higher-level providers, like doctors, rather than nurses and nurses aides — who Michel says are at fault for Carlson’s death.

Wesley’s attorneys also asked the court to limit damages to dollars actually paid, rather than medical costs originally billed and later written off or otherwise not paid.

A court date has not been set, but Michel said he thinks one will be scheduled in the next few months.

Hospitals have boosted fall prevention efforts across the country, according to Cindy Samuelson, vice president for public relations for the Kansas Hospital Association. Over the past three years, she said, more than 100 Kansas hospitals took part in a national initiative to reduce preventable hospital-acquired conditions, including falls.

The nation’s hospital fall average sits at 0.48 out of every 1,000 discharged patients, according to HospitalSafetyScore.org, a service provided by the Leapfrog Group — a nonprofit committed to health care safety, quality and transparency. The score is based off self-reported surveys, so the group doesn’t independently verify the information.

Wesley’s average is 0.651, according to the rating. Via Christi Hospital St. Francis’ average is 0.487.

According to the Leapfrog Group, hospital falls often occur when patients want to get up for the restroom, or to move around. To prevent those falls, the group recommends staff members respond quickly to patient bed-side alerts and make sure the environment is clear of trip hazards.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights fall risk assessments as a key preventative measure.

Wesley did assess Carlson as a high-risk patient when he arrived in the hospital, according to the lawsuit. The hospital cited his age, medications, inpatient equipment and unsteady walking style as reasons for his heightened risk, according to court records.

The circumstances around Carlson’s falls are unclear.

Reach Gabriella Dunn at 316-268-6400 or gdunn@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @gabriella_dunn.

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