TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation and Research was recently sued in a Harris County District Court over an alleged overdose of narcotic pain medications that caused a former Houston Police Department officer to suffer an anoxic brain injury. The patient was receiving rehabilitation treatment for paralysis from a gunshot wound that occurred in the line of duty.
TIRR is a well-known rehabilitation facility located at 1333 Moursund St, Houston, TX 77030. It has 134 licensed beds. As an experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney, I’ve investigated and handles tons of cases involving care at TIRR and other Memorial Hermann hospitals.
According to the original petition in this new case, a fully-trained attending physician ordered multiple narcotics and a resident physician (a doctor who is still in training) modified those orders. The plaintiff contends that the resident’s orders led to more narcotics to the point of overdose, which was demonstrated by a change in mental status. Once that happened, the police officer was transferred to Memorial Hermann Hospital to get checked out and for a higher level of care.
It’s hard to overstate the important of a change in behavior or mental status in a patient. In my experience, family members are often the first people to notice a change. It’s always important to immediately inform a nurse or doctor if this happens.
The plaintiff believes that the narcotic overdose deprived his brain of oxygen, causing optic swelling in both eyes and palsy of his sixth cranial nerve. These types of injuries are generally described by the catch-all term of anoxic encephalopathy.
From the many cases I’ve handled involving physicians on the medical staffs of Memorial Hermann facilities, I know that many of them, like TIRR, are teaching hospitals. In my opinion, this is both good and bad.
The good part is that the academic mission attracts top physicians (faculty and attending physicians) involved in training and research.
The bad part can come into play with patient care, which is what was alleged in this case. The plaintiff alleges that the faculty member or attending physician didn’t adequately supervise the work and clinical decision-making of the resident physician, who was still in training. We’ll have to wait and see how the evidence is developed in this particular case.
I can say, generally, though, that I see this type of mistake frequently at teaching hospitals. While it’s the well-known doctors whose photos are on the billboards, it’s often the residents who provide most of the direct patient care at teaching hospitals. And if they aren’t supervised properly or if there’s a breakdown of communication, then it unnecessarily puts patients at risk.
What you can do
When you’re hospitalized, I recommend writing down the name and role of every doctor and nurse who comes into your room.
It’s important to know who the attending physician is, because that person will be the captain calling the shots on your overall medical care. Other doctors have roles within their specialties, so it’s a good idea to know who’s who so you can direct your questions appropriately.
In teaching hospitals, I don’t think it’s enough for a provider to say, “I’m Dr. Jones,” without further information. Be sure to get clarification on whether the physician is an attending (fully trained) versus resident or fellow (still in training). In case it’s needed, remember that the attending physician supervises residents and fellows. On the nursing side, the charge nurse is the next level up on the supervisory chain above your bedside nurse.
Remember the old saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If you lose confidence in the advice and conclusions of the resident or nursing staff taking care of you, politely ask to raise your concerns to the next level.
If something goes wrong and you’re seriously injured while in the hospital, a top-rated Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney can help you investigate and evaluate your potential claim.