In April 2018, William George Davis, a Tyler, Texas, registered nurse, was arrested and charged with murder of a patient. Authorities expect charges against Davis for harming six other patients.
Prior to being charged with the murder of Christopher Greenaway, a 47-year-old patient at Christus Mother Frances Hospital, in Tyler, Davis was fired from his nursing position at the hospital.
The investigation got underway In January 2018, when the hospital administration approached authorities "with concerns that a nurse may have been involved in causing harm to patients.” They disclosed that “These patients were experiencing unexplained symptoms inconsistent with their treatment and recovery."
In March 2018, the Texas Board of Nursing suspended Davis’s nursing license based on evidence that he had entered three patients’ rooms at Owen Heart Hospital, which is part of Christus Mother Frances Hospital, and “performed an intervention” that either killed or critically harmed the patients. The Board order noted that the deceased patient “immediately deteriorated from their stable condition” after Davis’s actions and died two days later from an embolism and other complications.
While criminal conduct by a healthcare provider is fortunately rare, there are still some thoughts that came to my mind as a result of the Nurse Davis story.
Prompt reporting by hospitals of poor care and misconduct
One of the issues that will be investigated in the medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits that will follow is whether the Christus Mother Frances Hospital administrators reported the suspected nursing misconduct quickly enough. In other words, did hospital leaders sit on information for too long, allowing a registered nurse to harm additional patients?
As a former hospital administrator, I know that hospital leaders, including the chief nursing officer and committee members are responsible for continuously assessing quality and patient safety concerns. In reality, some hospitals do a better job than others.
While all of the facts are still unknown, I am pleased that the leadership of Christus Mother Frances Hospital took the appropriate steps of reporting their concerns about this nurse to outside authorities. We will monitor the civil litigation to see whether the evidence shows that notification was promptly done or not.
Any time I hear about allegations of criminal health care conduct, such as in the Nurse Davis case, I cannot help but think about a case that I handled a Dallas case a few years ago involving a neurosurgeon, Christopher Duntsch, M.D. Dr. Duntsch is now serving a life sentence for his operating room conduct that harmed a patient. There were several medical malpractice cases against Dr. Duntsch, involving his patients who alleged that his negligent medical care caused them to become quadriplegic or paraplegic, or even to die.
In the Dunstch litigation, we learned that hospital leaders were aware of the neurosurgeon’s dangerous and cavalier surgical practices. Instead of immediately reporting him to the Texas Medical Board or taking disciplinary actions against his medical staff privileges, the hospital recommended him for a position at another hospital. You can imagine what happened to patients at the next facility.
What you can do
Again, although this type of alleged criminal behavior by a healthcare provider is uncommon, it provides another reason why I think it is a good idea for patients to have a family member or friend with them 24/7 during a hospitalization.
While a patient may be confined to bed, family and friends can act as a patient advocate, watching what is happening, keeping a journal of orders, test results, developments, and healthcare provider visits, and speaking up when help is needed.
As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer, I have had many clients share their strange experienced with nurses administering an unknown medication that caused quick problems, or providing other questionable treatments. The best time to raise these issues if when you are still in the hospital, by speaking with a physician or nursing supervisor.
More commonly, clients share with me how a hospitalized patient’s condition deteriorates, but healthcare providers do not seem to notice or want to take action.
This type of medical negligence often starts with an inattentive or absent nurse who never seems to be around. Sometimes the hospital has inadequate staffing, meaning that there are not enough nurses to go around and meet all patient needs. On other occasions, nurses are too timid and do not want to disturb the doctor to report important new findings, like a patient with altered mental status, severe nausea and vomiting, or abnormal vital signs.
The old saying tells us that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. This can also be the case in a hospital when a patient’s condition is going south, but doctors and nurses do not want to do anything about it. A patient’s family member or friend can go down the hall and find a nurse when no one responds to the call button. When that does not work, the next step is to find a nursing supervisor or charge nurse, or the hospital administrator on call.
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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. In 2017, H Texas magazine named him one of Houston’s top lawyers. In May 2018, the Better Business Bureau recognized Painter Law Firm PLLC with its Award of Distinction.