What to do when you think there’s a hospital cover-up


Did a hospital camouflage the truth after a patient death in Christmas 2017?

December 11, 2018

I frequently have conversations with clients who have a gut feeling that their doctors, nurses, and hospital representatives aren’t being totally honest with them. Sometimes, they believe they’re outright lying to them about something bad that happened during a hospitalization.

How we investigate medical coverups

As an experienced medical malpractice attorney and a former hospital administrator, I know where to look to get to the bottom of mysteries like this.

One place I look is the medical records. It’s a big clue when the physician and nursing notes and reports are pretty sparse or hit-and-miss the days and hours before an incident, but suddenly are thorough and comprehensive around the time something happens. That’s a pretty telltale sign of, at worst, a coverup or, at least, healthcare providers trying to put their own spin on things.

Another tool that I use is deposing all the healthcare providers involved during the relevant time period. If a story has been fabricated, I’ve found that it’s difficult for several doctors and nurses to stay on the same page while giving sworn deposition testimony. The truth tends to escape under careful cross examination.

The federal government sometimes is a big help

Sometimes the federal government stumbles upon misdeeds or poor care and issues a public report of the violations at issue.

That’s exactly what happened recently in Tennessee, involving what some have called a coverup of a patient’s death at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

According to a violation report issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the patient went to the hospital with a subdural hematoma (a brain bleed under the dura mater) that gave her a headache and impaired vision.

A doctor ordered a sedative called versed. A nurse typed “VE” into the computerized medication cabinet at the hospital and selected vecuronium by mistake and injected it into the patient. Vecuronium is a paralyzing agent used in operating rooms. It’s so powerful, though, that it’s also used for executions in some places, like the Volunteer State.

Before the nurse’s medication error, the patient was stable. The wrong drug rendered her unconscious, caused a heart attack, and left her brain dead. She died the next day.

According to the facts in the U.S. government’s report, this is a classic case of medical malpractice that caused a wrongful death.

Yet, the Medicare report reflects that when the medical examiner’s (coroner’s) office investigated this unexpected death, a physician told them that the patient died from bleeding. The doctor added that any talk about a medication error was just hearsay. Based on the doctor’s comments, the medical examiner didn’t investigate the circumstances of the patient’s death—it’s not in their scope to look into natural deaths.

The federal government’s investigation concluded that the patient’s medical records don’t say a word about notifying the medical examiner’s office of the medication error. When questioned about whether the medication error may have caused the patient’s death, a Vanderbilt official said, “We don’t know.” When the medical examiner’s office found out that this critical information hadn’t been disclosed, they weren’t happy.

Based on the investigation by the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services, the hospital has taken steps to prevent errors like this in the future.

What you can do

I’ve always been a believer in gut feelings. (After reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, I’m an even bigger believer in them). If you think something is fishy, there’s a good chance it is. Ask questions. If there’s a suspicious or unexpected death of a loved one, ask for an autopsy. And then contact an experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney to do an investigation of your own.

We are here to help

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured because of poor hospital or medical care, click here to send us a confidential email via our “Contact Us” form or call us at 281-580-8800.

All consultations are free, and, because we only represent clients on a contingency fee, you will owe us nothing unless we win your case. We handle cases in the Houston area and all over Texas. We are currently working on medical malpractice lawsuits in Houston, The Woodlands, Sugar Land, Conroe, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Bryan/College Station, and Waco.


Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. A member of the board of directors of the Houston Bar Association, he was honored, in 2018, by H Texas as one of Houston’s top lawyers. Also, in 2018, the Better Business Bureau recognized Painter Law Firm PLLC with its Award of Distinction.

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.


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