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Nursing home pt. died from falls: was justice done?

CASE ON POINT: Carts v. Miller's Health Systems, Inc., 972 N.E.2d 966 (8/15/2012)-IN

CASE FACTS: Dorothy Curts, a woman in her eighties, was admitted to Manor Nursing Home. On May 7, 2006, Dorothy had an accident while in Manor's care. She was taken to a local emergency room and treated. However, approximately 24 hours later she died. Dorothy's son, Michael Curts, brought suit, acting individually and as personal representative of his mother's estate. He raised claims of wrongful death, breach of contract, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. All three claims relied upon his assertions that Manor acted negligently in caring for Dorothy, and that such negligence resulted in Dorothy falling out of bed, hitting her head, which resulted in death. Manor moved to stay the proceedings, contending it was a qualified health care provider that opted to be covered under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act. A medical review panel consisting of three medical doctors convened and ultimately determined. "[T]he evidence did not support the conclusion that [Manor] failed to meet the appropriate standard of care as charged in the complaint and the conduct complained of was not a factor of the resultant damages." Manor moved for summary judgment designating as evidence the medical review panel's decision. Michael filed a response and designated as evidence both a deposition and report letter of Theresa Weitkamp, a Registered Nurse and nursing home administrator. A portion of a deposition of Michael, and the admission contract between the decedent and the Manor were also introduced. After a hearing, the court granted Manor's motion for summary judgment. In her report, Nurse Weitkamp summarized the clinical records relating to the care and services provided to the decedent and at area hospitals when such medical care was necessary. The decedent was admitted to Manor for nursing care after she suffered a stroke and made one trip to an emergency room. Her medical issues were varied, including weakness and contusions on her left side, fatigue, and diabetes. The decedent had a history of falling, and her physician ordered a sensor alarm and bed and chair alarms. Despite this, she fell at Manor on at least one occasion prior of the incident at issue, which resulted in a fractured left hip. The decedent had "urinary frequency and had to be toileted often" and "was also incontinent at times." Nurse Weitkarnp's report indicated that the decedent would often turn on her call light to obtain assistance in getting to the restroom, but such attempts were often neglected and she would either wait a lengthy period for help or try to make it to the restroom on her own. In December 2005, this resulted in staff responding to an alarm and finding the decedent lying on the floor in her room. She was unable to move without pain, but was otherwise uninjured. She was routinely reminded to ask for assistance before getting up from her bed. In early 2006, nurses noted occasions when she urinated every twenty to thirty minutes during the night. She began setting off her bed alarm in an effort to get assistance more quickly. In April 2006, she was found sitting next to her bed after she got up so she could "pee in the trash can." Despite all of these events, Nurse Weitkamp noted that no new measures were implemented to reduce the risk of falling. At 1:00 p.m., on May 7, 2006, a staff person responded to an alarm from her room and found her lying face down on the floor. She had a lame knot and a laceration about two centimeters long on her forehead, and she was lying in a significant amount of blood. She was taken to the emergency room within minutes. Doctors discovered a fractured wrist and severe fractures to her spine. Although she was considered stable, she died at 12:15 on May 8, 2006. Nurse Weitkamp concluded that" it was her opinion that ... the Manor ... deviated from commonly accepted standards of care by [flailing to provide adequate supervision to prevent accidents," "failing to respond to alarms in a manner timely enough to prevent accidents," "[f]ailing to take measures to determine the root cause of Mrs. Curts' urinary problems," "[f]ailing to provide staff in adequate numbers to meet the needs of ... residents," and "[f]ailing to provide care and services to enable residents to attain or maintain their highest practicable physical well-being." Nurse Weitkamp concluded that the decedent fell multiple times, finally sustaining an injury that led to her death. After a hearing, the trial court granted Manor's motion for summary judgment. An appeal was taken.

COURT'S OPINION: The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed the judgment of the trial court in granting the Manor's motion for summary judgment. The court held, inter alia, that Manor met its initial burden of establishing a prima facie showing that no genuine issue of material fact existed because it concluded the unanimous opinion of the medical review panel "[t]he evidence does not support the conclusion that [Manor] failed to meet the ... standard of care as charged in the complaint and the conduct complained of was not a factor ...

LEGAL COMMENTARY: The appellate court acknowledged that in Indiana. Nurses were qualified to sit on medical review panels. What if Nurse Weitkamp had been sitting on that panel? Might we have had a different result? Editor's Note: The editor respectfully disagrees with the result!

A. David Tammelleo JD Editor & Publisher
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Title Annotation:Legal Focus on Hospital Law Issues
Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Publication:Hospital Law's Regan Report
Article Type:Case overview
Date:Nov 1, 2012
Previous Article:Hospital law decisions of note.
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