Hospital called careless in suit

Offspring sue facility, charging negligence in death of father


July 14, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

The children of a 77-year-old Ellicott City man are suing Howard County General Hospital, claiming the institution's negligence caused their father's premature death.

James M. Wall Sr. was doing well after a minor procedure to fix a problem caused by an earlier surgery but went into cardiac arrest Sept. 15 after a nurse attached a unit of aluminum ammonium sulfate to the intravenous line in his arm, sending the solution directly into his bloodstream, according to the lawsuit. The solution had been given to him previously through a catheter to flush blood clots from his bladder, according to the lawsuit and the Wall family's lawyer.

Wall, a retired State Farm insurance agent, became sick and died a few hours later, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Howard Circuit Court yesterday. A state medical examiner ruled Wall's death accidental and said the aluminum blocked the vessels in his lungs, according to a copy of the autopsy report.

"This was a life-and-death mistake. This is as bad as you get," said Daniel M. Clements, the Baltimore attorney who represents the Wall family.

The wrongful death lawsuit, which was filed by Wall's six surviving children - a daughter died in 1980 - does not name the nurse but lays blame for Wall's death on Howard County General Hospital.

Wall's doctor had previously prescribed the solution, but once Wall's procedure was complete, as a matter of practice all prior medical orders should have automatically been canceled and the solution removed from the patient's medical cabinet, according to the lawsuit.

The hospital failed to adequately train its staff to remove the solution once it was no longer needed, to make sure the solution was labeled with "warnings adequate to prevent confusion" and to make certain the nurse knew how Wall was to be treated, according to the suit.

Michael J. Baxter, the Baltimore attorney representing the hospital, said its policy is to refrain from commenting on the specifics of pending cases.

"The hospital has a very high priority, maybe the highest priority, on patient safety, and they are, obviously, concerned when complaints are made," he said.

The hospital is a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

`Look at practices'

Wall's daughter, Terry Wall of Elkridge, said she is hoping the lawsuit, which does not specify the damages the family is seeking, will encourage the hospital to "take a look at its practices" to fix the procedural mistakes that she believes resulted in her father's death.

"We don't want any family to go through this - where they lose someone they love needlessly," said Terry Wall, 49, who teaches at a Catholic school in Washington.

James Wall had recently lost his wife of nearly 50 years after a long battle with cancer, but he seemed to be handling the loss well, Terry Wall said. She said she and her father traveled to Ireland after her mother's death in May last year. The two were talking about taking a trip to Alaska this summer, she said.

But a urinary blockage in September sent James Wall, who had spent his retirement years gardening, traveling and working with his church, to Howard County General Hospital for surgery. Within days of the Sept. 9 surgery, he was back in the hospital after complications caused blood clots to form, according to the lawsuit.

His doctor ordered the aluminum ammonium sulfate - or Alum - to flush his bladder and provide relief from the pain, and operated on Wall again Sept. 14, according to the lawsuit, which lays no blame on the doctor.

Stayed at hospital

That night, Terry Wall said, she and her brothers stayed at the hospital with their father, joking and watching football. After they left and in the early morning hours, the lawsuit claims, a nurse attached a unit of Alum, which is normally run into the urinary tract through a catheter, to the intravenous line in James Wall's arm.

Patient in pain

Wall began vomiting and "moaning and groaning in pain," according to an affidavit from his hospital roommate. He was pronounced dead about four hours later. The Alum was found attached to the IV when hospital workers attempted to resuscitate him, according to the lawsuit and the autopsy report.

Clements said yesterday that the incident was "just so ... preventable" but that the lawsuit did not name the nurse because the hospital is responsible for the care its employees provide.

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