Family alleges patient death cover-up at Kindred Hospital Sugar Land
Tips from our experienced medical malpractice lawyers on uncovering the truth and how to avoid poor hospital care
The Houston Chronicle recently published a shocking story that blew the lid open on how an 87-year-old Manuela Chapa died at Kindred Hospital Sugar Land, in Fort Bend County, Texas. The story is dramatically different from what the family says that they were told by the doctors at Kindred.
Manuela’s daughter, Cris Chapa, checked her mother into Kindred Hospital Sugar Land for care related to pneumonia. Admission to a hospital for pneumonia is very common for elderly patients.
On March 12, 2015, the doctors at the Kindred facility told Cris that her mother had died from pneumonia and that there was nothing that they could have done to save her.
The family thought that was the end of things and dealt with their grief, until two years later. In January 2017, a nurse practitioner named Linda Patton mailed Cris a letter and a package of documents that tell an entirely different story.
Patton told Cris and the Houston Chronicle that Manuela had not died from pneumonia, as the doctors at Kindred had said. Instead, a botched procedure took her life. Even worse, neither Manuela nor her family had asked or given permission for the procedure in the first place.
According to Patton, an interventional cardiologist, Dr. Yasir Sonbol, tried to insert a catheter into a vein in Manuela’s neck and got the wire stuck. As Dr. Sonbol struggled to get the wire out, Manuela’s heart had stopped and blood was spilling from her body. There was so much blood that it soaked her hospital gown.
In the midst of this medical mayhem, Cris and one of her brothers happened to arrive at the hospital to visit their mother. They had no idea that this secret, unauthorized procedure was underway. Cris recalls the medical staff blocking them from entering their mom’s room and saying, “You can’t be here right now.”
A corporate coverup?
Kindred Hospital Sugar Land may sound like a local hospital, but there are actually 21 hospitals in Texas with “Kindred” in the name. This particular hospital is owned by Triumph Hospital Southwest, LP. Many of the other Kindred hospitals are owned by companies like Kindred Hospitals Limited Partnership, which is based on Louisville, Kentucky.
When Patton realized no one had been punished and the family had not been told the truth about what happened to Manuela, she said that she informed a superior at Kindred Hospital Sugar Land. Patton recalled that her superior blew it off.
Patton then recalls taking her claim further, all the way to Kindred’s corporate office in Kentucky.
It was not long before a manager flew down to meet with her. According to Patton, the corporate boss told her that the whole affair was not her concern and that she should just let leadership handle it.
At that point, Patton decided to file a complaint with the Texas Department of State Health Services, which is the agency that investigates hospitals.
Patton made an incredibly bold and courageous decision. She put honesty and patient safety ahead of corporate profits and coverups. In its publication “Error Reporting and Disclosure,” the National Institutes of Health has recognized that there is a serious problem with doctors and nurses reporting mistakes because they are too afraid of what may happen to them.
The state ended up sending an investigator to the hospital and it was not long before the federal government got involved as well.
Even though the Texas Department of State Health Services substantiated Patton’s complaint and could have fined the hospital, it chose not to do so. As for the Texas Medical Board, it cleared the physician of any wrongdoing without interviewing the family or Patton. Is it any wonder that so many people view the Texas state government's oversight of hospitals and physicians as a joke?
The story about what really happened to Manuela Chapa has some important lessons that can be helpful to all of us, both as patients and family members.
For some nurses “ignorance is bliss” when it comes to medications
Patton had started working at Kindred Hospital Sugar Land about seven months before Manuela had become a patient there. Patton had left Houston Methodist Hospital to take a more senior nurse practitioner job at the Kindred facility.
Patton said that she noticed problems right away, like nurses not knowing what mediations their patients were taking or what side effects they should be looking for.
As a Houston medical malpractice lawyer, I have frequently seen both the type of cover-up that Patton and Manuela’s family described, but also the very dangerous problem of nursing ignorance when it comes to medications is one that I encounter often.
According to the Texas Board of Nursing, though, that should not be so. The Board has a rule that requires licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) and registered nurses (RNs) to “know the rationale for and effects of medications and treatments and shall correctly administer the same.”
This rule means that the standard of care requires nurses to think independently before giving medications to their patients. Nurses need to know when medications should not be given and what side effects to watch out for. If there is a potential problem, they must contact the prescribing doctor rather than just follow orders and not say a word.
What can you do to keep you and your loved ones safe?
When you or a loved one is a patient in a hospital, nursing home, rehab facility, or transitional hospital, talk with the doctor and nurses about the medications that they want to administer. (1) Ask for the names of the medications and what they are for. (2) Make sure you ask for the spelling of the medications so you can Google them later if you want more information. (3) Request that they explain the side effects that you should look out for. (4) Ask if a new medication would conflict with any other medicines being taken. (5) If they cannot answer your questions adequately, tell them that you want someone to come and talk to you who can.
From my years of experience in handling Texas medical malpractice lawsuits, I recommend, if at all possible, that no one should ever be left alone in a hospital without a family member or friend present. Whoever is with the patient needs to know about the medications and side effects, so they can immediately notify a nurse or doctor if something goes wrong.
Understanding informed consent
According to the Houston Chronicle story, there was no informed consent for the procedure that the doctor performed on Manuela, which ended her life. That is a big problem.
Under Texas law, a doctor must obtain informed consent before performing a medical treatment or surgery on a patient. Informed consent is permission given by the patient, after she has been advised of the risks or hazards that could influence a reasonable person in deciding whether to give permission.
When a doctor performs a procedure without informed consent, it can be considered medical battery. Informed consent is a non-delegable duty of the doctor. That means that it is the doctor’s responsibility to obtain it and he or she cannot delegate it to a nurse.
Before going forward with a treatment or procedure, make sure that you have a real informed consent conversation with your doctor. Ask about the benefits and risks of the procedure, and the benefits and risks of doing nothing. If a nurse goes over the informed consent paperwork with you, remember that you do not have to sign it if you have unanswered questions for your doctor.
I recently did this when I accompanied a loved one who was having a minor surgery. The preprinted hospital consent paperwork was presented by a nurse, and it included giving permission for a certificated registered nurse anesthetist to administer anesthesia, in place an anesthesiologist. I told them “no way” and asked to see the anesthesiologist. We got the consent paperwork fixed very quickly and I am glad that we did so.
Being pushed around at a hospital
Cris Chapa, Manuela’s daughter, recalls being told by the Kindred facility’s medical staff that she could not enter her mother’s room. She said that they blocked her from entering and took them away.
That is really strange, but I have to admit that I have heard similar reports from a number of clients.
If you encounter this situation, I suggest that you assertively demand answers. Ask to see the administrator on duty.
We are here to help
As a Houston medical malpractice lawyer, I have seen countless instances in which Texas agencies choose not to fine hospitals or health care providers, even after they investigate and find that a complaint is valid. Too often, as in the case of Christopher Duntsch, M.D., I believe that the state regulatory oversight is too little, too late, and people pay for it with their lives.
That is why I believe that the best way to hold negligent doctors and hospitals accountability is at the courthouse. If you would like to have a free evaluation of your potential case by the experienced medical malpractice lawyers at Painter Law Firm, call 281-580-8800.
Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.
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This article was originally published in the September/October 2017 edition of "The Houston Lawyer" magazine [...]read more
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