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What Virginia Mason’s Famous Medication Error Teaches Us

By Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. on November 17, 2018

In 2004, Mary L. McClinton, a social worker and mother of four sons as well as foster parent to eight children, died almost three weeks after undergoing what should have been a routine medical procedure at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle. The error that led to her death?

Ms. McClinton was injected with a toxic cleaning solution, which caused her to suffer two cardiac arrests, a stroke, and an amputated leg right before she died. During the 19 days preceding her death, she suffered constant pain. The cause of her death was a preventable medical error.

How could such an error take place at a hospital, where patient safety should be a priority? Ms. McClinton was injected with the antiseptic chlorhexidine instead of contrast dye. The hospital did not label the containers holding the different solutions. The contrast dye and saline solution that should have been injected were the same color and in the same type of stainless steel bowl as the chlorhexidine, making it easy for the surgical tech to reach for the wrong one.

In a surprising turn of events, Virginia Mason took public responsibility for the deadly error, saying in a public statement, “Many were aware of the hazard in the system that could lead to injection of the wrong solution and aware of a simple method to prevent this occurrence. No one took action to change the process before this tragedy occurred.” The choice not to label a container cost Mary McClinton her life, and cost her children their mother. After a wrongful death lawsuit, Ms. McClinton’s family settled with the medical center.

Hospital errors are not uncommon. If you or a loved one suffered an injury due to a hospital error, call the Seattle medical malpractice lawyers of Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., at (888) 228-3860. It’s crucial to have a lawyer when dealing with a suit against a hospital.

When a Hospital Makes a Mistake

Hospital mistakes are tragic and they have irreparable consequences. In another incident, a man sued Virginia Mason and was awarded $8.5 million after a stent procedure left his urethra obliterated. Matthew Hipps insisted on having a specific surgeon perform his surgery, but when he woke, he found out that another surgeon did the procedure without his consent. Hipps had to undergo a surgical repair of his penis, but was left with disability, pain, and disfigurement.

When we enter a hospital, we expect to be taken care of by professionals who will ensure our safety, not contribute to our illness. Unfortunately, hospitals are not perfect and they make preventable errors every single day.

Becker’s Hospital Review reported, “Nearly one in four seriously ill patients said they have experienced a serious medical error, including 14 percent who said the error or most recent error happened at a hospital and 7 percent who said it happened at a physician’s office or clinic.”

The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit organization that strives to make progress in the healthcare business, released some pretty terrifying statistics:

  • As many as 440,000 people die every year from hospital errors, injuries, accidents, and infections.
  • Every year, 1 out of every 25 patients develops an infection while in the hospital—an infection that didn’t have to happen.
  • A Medicare patient has a 1 in 4 chance of experiencing injury, harm, or death when admitted to a hospital.
  • Today, more than 1,000 people will die because of a preventable hospital error.

What Can You Do When a Hospital Error Causes Harm?

So what can you do if your hospital allowed an error while treating you or your loved one? First of all, it’s important to speak up. If you feel concerned or notice an error has been made while you’re at the hospital, talk to someone about it. The hospital staff must be notified of any potential health risks. They are there to help you, so don’t be afraid of notifying them that something is not going right. Most doctors and nurses just want their patients to get better, but not every hospital has the organized infrastructure, leadership, and teamwork to make that a reality.

Hospitals need to be held accountable for their mistakes, no matter how much they help us. Not as punishment, but to ensure that measures are taken to prevent major errors from happening again. If you or someone you know suffered from a hospital’s malpractice, please give Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., a call at (888) 228-3860 to set up a free consultation.

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