Neglect leaves woman comatose

Tess Langfus

When 42-year-old Sharon Williams admitted herself to Fairview-University hospital for a vaginal hysterectomy, she expected to return home within a few days.
Now, six months later, Williams is fighting for consciousness.
On April 11, after a successful, routine surgery, Williams underwent respiratory complications that were undetected by Fairview-University Medical Center hospital staff, according to an investigative report issued by the Minnesota Department of Health.
The report states that the nurse in charge of Williams affirmed her neglect in failing to turn on a machine designed to monitor Williams’ breathing.
The nurse told investigators that after determining Williams was responsive to commands, she gave her morphine, then “had her back to (Williams) for less than three minutes to talk to another nurse,” the report stated.
Within 20 minutes of being admitted to the recovery room, however, Williams stopped breathing.
Doctors tried for several minutes, but could not fully revive her. Williams from insufficient oxygen to her brain and slipped into a comatose state in which she still remains.
Now, as Williams lies unconscious in Vencor Hospital Minneapolis in Golden Valley, her husband, James, and a panel of 10 church and community organization leaders have spoken out against the hospital’s actions and responses.
Rev. Alfred Babington-Johnson, president and CEO of the Stairstep Initiative — an organization working to create a model community for African Americans — read a letter to be sent to the board of directors of Fairview Health Services:
“We are distressed by the improper care that Sharon received, and we are confounded by the insensitivity of your organization since this tragedy unfolded on your premises.
“It is difficult to understand why an organization dedicated to providing health services would treat the Williams family with what seems to be a disdain for their pain and an inattention to the mounting costs that Sharon’s care is producing.”
The purpose of the press conference, James Williams said, was to ensure that a similar situation does not occur to anyone else seeking medical care.
“Although this is a very deep, private, painful moment for us, we felt the need to be able to share our story publicly to make sure that what has happened to us will not happen to anyone else.”
Another woman lies unconscious after undergoing surgery at another Fairview Health Services hospital.
Pamela Dean, who entered the Fairview-Riverside hospital for a vaginal hysterectomy prior to Williams, also never regained consciousness and, like Williams, is still comatose.
Rather than press charges against the hospital, however, the family settled out of court and moved Dean to another Twin Cities care facility.
Bill Tilton, Williams’ attorney, said the organized effort to question and confront Fairview Health Services is extraordinary.
“I’ve been practicing for 23 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Tilton said. “For the community to rally around a person like this, for the state to get involved, for the state to make a finding of neglect, for important community leaders to tell the hospital board of directors, ‘We want to meet with you. We want you to stand up to the plate and do the right thing.’ This doesn’t happen.”
The press conference had three purposes. Not only were speakers calling for the medical center to admit their negligence, but they also wanted to inform the public of the method of investigating negligent acts and to stop the medical practice of withholding malpractice information from the public.
Currently, Fairview-Riverside handles internal investigations in a peer-review system which, the church leaders say, is unacceptable.
The peer-review system now in place has no accountability to the public, said the Rev. Lesley Ford, pastor of the Living Word Church, where Williams was a parishioner and worked as a secretary.
Information discovered in peer-reviews is not made available to the public which, Ford said, limits its ability to make a qualified decision of medical care.
Rev. Randolph Staten, co-chair of the Coalition of Black Churches and the African American Leadership Summit, said the panel will ask for both federal and state legislation to “overhaul the peer review process that is in place that continues to allow hospitals to get away, deliberately get away, with murder.”
James Williams also wants the hospital to admit its neglect in his wife’s care.
“We want the hospital to stand up and accept the full responsibility that they should have on this matter,” the, former Honeywell attorney said. “We want the hospital to stop hiding behind statutes and lawyers and insurance companies and step forward and do the right thing.”
Fairview Health Services spokeswoman Jean Tracy, however, said hospital officials are not denying neglect in the case.
She would not comment further.
“The hospital is in an extremely unusual and awkward position,” said Tilton, attorney for the Williams family.