Updated January 29, 2019
In a case that shows a disturbing lack of concern for human welfare, a woman died recently only minutes after being forced to leave the hospital. Barbara Dawson had been admitted to Calhoun-Liberty Hospital in Blountstown, Florida, to treat abdominal pain. After receiving treatment, Dawson was told that she was being discharged. She refused to leave, however, and early on the morning of December 21, 2015, the police were called to remove her. When she would not go voluntarily, the responding officer charged her with disorderly conduct and trespassing and, with the help of a paramedic, ultimately placed her in handcuffs.
On the way to the police cruiser, Dawson collapsed. The officer and hospital staff believed she was faking and continued to attempt to load her into the cruiser to take her to jail. Medical staff decided that she was fine, but when a doctor checked her vital signs and discovered she needed medical attention—after being on the ground for 18 minutes—Dawson was readmitted. The medical staff attempted to revive her, but she was declared dead soon after. An autopsy later identified a pulmonary embolism as the cause of death.
Dawson’s family is considering a lawsuit against the hospital and local police. The Florida Department of Health is also investigating the incident.
Dawson lived in the neighborhood and had visited the emergency room on multiple occasions for treatment. She had some history of conflict with the hospital staff. In fact, at least four previous incident reports had been filed with police by the hospital since 2006. It’s not clear if this played any part in the sequence of events on the day of her death, but the accounts (including police audio and dash-cam video from the police cruiser) show that she was concerned about her immediate condition and that her concerns were not taken seriously by those around her.
An attorney speaking on behalf of the family summed up the situation succinctly: “Why didn’t she get the benefit of the doubt? Why didn’t she get the benefit of the humanity from the hospital and the police officer?”
The details of this case raise disturbing questions all around. On the medical side, why were hospital staff so insistent that Dawson leave, despite her complaints that she in fact felt sick? Why, if reports are accurate, did they not examine her more thoroughly? Why, after she collapsed in the parking lot, did it take 18 minutes for a physician to arrive and recognize the dangerous state she was in?
From the police side, why was a police officer allowed to get involved in her medical treatment? According to the arresting officer’s own report, it was he who disconnected the oxygen hose that had been used by Dawson. Why would non-medical staff ever be allowed to take this kind of action, even with the approval of hospital staff? Why, in any case, was a police officer called to remove a discharged patient who insisted she still needed treatment?
Cases like this are unusual, but they happen. Sometimes, they gain media attention. In October, a morbidly obese man was thrown out of a Rhode Island hospital after ordering a pizza (which was a violation of the care plan he was following in preparation for gastric bypass surgery). In March of 2012, a terminal cancer patient was kicked out of a San Francisco area hospital for using a marijuana vaporizer (which she was licensed to use). In 2011, a North Carolina man was found dead after being discharged and buckled into a taxi by hospital staff; he was unresponsive and may have been dying or already dead at the time he was put in the taxi.
Hospitals and other care providers have a duty to treat those in need. When this duty is ignored, tragedy can follow. When actions like these are allowed to happen without consequences, it endangers the future treatment and safety of other patients.
The Dawson case and others like it are tragic. There is hope, however, that the family can create something positive from her death. If they sue and reach a successful settlement, the hospital may be forced to not only provide compensation for Dawson’s death, but they may also be required to change their practices to ensure that something like this never happens again. A change like that benefits everyone.
If you or a loved one have been harmed in some way while receiving medical treatment, or you were denied treatment and were further injured as a result, you are urged to contact the attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. An experienced Indianapolis medical malpractice lawyer at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.
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