Gary Wheelis arrived at Backus Hospital in 2012 with a piece of chicken lodged in his throat, which was surgically removed. Shortly after, he had a stroke and things worsened leading to his death from a cerebral hemorrhage two days later. The family brought a medical malpractice claim in New London Superior Court, accusing the facility of demonstrating medical negligence for providing him an excessive dosage of blood thinner medications. He had allegedly been given a combination of aspirin and Heparin although he was already on a dosage of Warfarin. The case was recently settled for $2.65 million.
Once Wheelis received the Heparin, the combination of three blood thinners caused bleeding in the brain because his blood could not coagulate. The attorney who represented the plaintiffs said that a hospital physician admitted there was poor communication at the time and that he should not have been given Heparin. $2 million of the settlement was paid by a liability insurance provider and the balance of $650,000 will be paid by another defendant who has signed a confidentiality agreement.
The suit included 9 counts, such as loss of consortium and bystander emotional distress after his wife watching her husband undergo a relatively minor procedure–then suddenly die. She has since suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. The court allowed a hospital motion to strike the bystander emotional distress claim, explaining that the hospital’s actions were not grossly negligent enough to clearly demonstrate malpractice.
The court relied on prior case law from Squeo et al. v. Norwalk Hospital Association, where the son of the plaintiffs committed suicide immediately after release from a hospital following mental health treatment. In this case, the court found that the hospital was not liable for causing his extreme distress. In Krayeski v Greenwich Hospital, the court allowed for an emotional distress claim after a mother gave birth to a child with severe injuries; however, the bystander claim was excluded because the mother was a patient rather than a bystander.
Backus Hospital, which is part of a medical system that employs 1,800 people, is among the many facilities that have demonstrated negligence in administering blood thinners. Roughly 7% of hospital medication mistakes involve these anticoagulants. A panel of medical experts led by Edith Nutescu, a clinical professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and leader of UIC’s Antithrombosis Center, created the following new safety guidelines:
- Established a dosing standard with access to an electronic record system available on each floor of the hospital
- Tracking all patients receiving coagulation medications, preferably through a reliable electronic system
- New procedures for the inpatient to outpatient transitional process that focuses on three key elements
- Enhanced educational programs regarding coagulants
- Proper primary care physician contact and follow-up
- Greater communication between all parties involved in the patient care
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