|A few weeks ago I wrote about a hospital that I believe over-paid on a disclosure case. Last year I wrote about a hospital that disclosed a tragic error but offered the family nothing more than an awkward handshake, and rightly got sued with the case settling shortly thereafter. A newspaper reporter tried to say the hospital got “burned” by their apology, but we know apology does not absolve your of your financial obligations to harmed patients and families.Today, I share a case where I don’t know, but I have some thoughts and ideas to share. Moreover, the story provides a virtual checklist of issues that healthcare and insurance organizations need to consider when disclosing. Here’s a link for the story as well as another link.
Long story short, a 3 month-old baby, Selena Olguin, had part of a finger severed by a nurse trying to remove an IV. The portion of the pinky finger that was severed could not be re-attached.
Here’s what the family’s attorney has to say: “Pendas (the family attorney) claims that while attorneys for the hospital were responsive to him at first, they stopped responding, forcing him to file the lawsuit. So far, the family hasn’t seen a penny. They have filed a lawsuit against the hospital and nurse, seeking damages of more than $15,000. ‘This is something that should’ve been a very simple process,’ he said, without specifying how much the family wanted. ‘It is difficult to put a dollar amount on this.’ Pendás said Selena could suffer future emotional and physical disability because of her lost finger.
Here’s what the hospital has had to say: “The hospital said in a statement the incident was an ‘unfortunate accident,’ and that they made contact with the family. ‘We deeply regret the harm to the child and want to express our compassion and concern for her and her family. We reached out right away to the child’s family and their attorney, but have not been able to reach a mutually agreeable resolution.’”
And more from the hospital’s attorney: “Attorney Richards Ford, who is representing the hospital, said they have ‘looked at this thing very, very closely,’ by investigating the nurse involved, who is still employed. ‘We have tried our best to resolve this,’ he said.
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And finally here’s what the child’s Mom had to say: “Olguin says she still has nightmares about the incident, and she believes Selena does too. ‘I saw everything. And it’s really hard what I went through. And I can’t imagine what she went through,’ she said. Olguin claims Selena wakes up crying often in the night, and she worries for her child’s future in sports and school without a finger. ‘It’s really hard that she, she was born so perfect.’”
Very tragic case, and I don’t know who is being the roadblock to a fair settlement: The PI attorney or the hospital? This is a type of case where lawsuit shouldn’t have to be filed, but the family has a right to file a lawsuit if they are not being treated fairly, just as the hospital has a right to go to court and argue a case on the damages.
From a disclosure checklist perspective, keep this case in mind when thinking of compensation. Do you have the people and mechanisms in place to move quickly (once fault has been determined) and be fair in your offer, without over paying? Are your attorneys part of this process and supportive, or not? Do you need to get new attorneys? And have you communicated the intent of your disclosure program to the trial bar, and worked to build relationships with these folks before an event happens?
Also, from a checklist perspective, this might be a case – once the temperature drops – where the family could be involved in improving the hospital. Be ready for these possibilities.
Also, from checklist perspective, I truly worry about the hospital because of the public words they issued: “unfortunate accident” and “regret.” To be frank, these phrases came off as weasel words, probably dreamed up by lawyers and PR people trying to limit or minimize damages — but weasel words often increase the anger and financial damages that follow. Not only damages from this case, but also reputational harm in the community….as a parent myself I was outraged by these word choices. Say it like it is: “This is a tragic error that has damaged a beautiful child, and we are very sorry for our mistake that has led to life-long consequences for Selana and her family. We can only imagine their pain, we truly apologize, and we will do our best to support them.” Make sure your PR people and lawyers don’t make a bad situation worse.
Finally, from a checklist perspective, I was glad to see the nurse emphathized immediately by saying sorry – but what about other staff? Did they say sorry too? Do we need empathy training for other staff? At some point – if possible – it would be valuable for the nurse and the family to meet. Also, are we providing emotional support for the nurse and others involved in the mistake? We need to take care of everybody.
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