Family of patient who died after orthopedic surgery wins $35M verdict against hospital

Alan Condon -  

A jury on Feb. 22 awarded $35 million to the family of a man who died hours after undergoing orthopedic surgery at Springhill Medical Center in Mobile, Ala., more than seven years ago.

Six details:

1. In 2014, Jay West severely cut the tip of his left thumb while using a table saw. An orthopedic surgeon at Springhill Medical Center told him amputating the fingertip was medically necessary.

2. The procedure was completed without complications and the orthopedic surgeon wrote a prescription for up to 4 milligrams of IV Dilaudid every three hours for pain management, according to Cunningham Bounds, the law firm that represented the patient's family. Mr. West was transferred to the hospital's orthopedic floor, where he was to spend the night and go home the following day.

3. A nurse administered 4 milligrams of IV Dilaudid to Mr. West and another 4 milligrams less than two hours later. Nursing staff did not monitor Mr. West after the second dose and he was found unresponsive nearly four hours later, the law firm said. He died less than 10 hours after surgery, 

4. In 2012, the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations published a Sentinel Event Alert related to the safe use of opioids in hospitals. Recommendations in the alert outlined that Mr. West should have been identified as a high-risk for opioid-induced respiratory depression, and should have received serial respiratory monitoring as well as provided with continuous electronic monitoring of his oxygen saturation levels.

5. Dilaudid has an FDA black box warning because of its potentially deadly side effect of causing respiratory depression and cardiopulmonary arrest.

6. The jury awarded the verdict after finding the hospital did not implement any of the safety measures outlined by the JCAHO and did not train its nurses on how to protect patients from the dangers of postoperative IV opioids, according to the law firm.

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