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Lawsuit alleges patient discharged from HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood emergency room with spinal cord injury

Nurse documented that ER doctor was aware of continued patient weakness before sending patient home

One of the most frustrating experiences for patients is to be sent home from the hospital without being treated for what brought them there in the first place. Here at Painter Law Firm, we have a lot of conversations with clients who describe these concerning situations.

This is basically the problem that led to the medical malpractice lawsuit that we filed in Houston, Harris County, Texas yesterday. You can read the original petition here.

During unusual freezing weather that Houston experienced in February 2021, a woman in Northeast Houston slipped and fell face-first on her driveway. She couldn’t get up and after about 20 minutes emergency medical technicians (EMTs) arrived to help her.

EMTs documented in their record that she fell on ice and hit her head, leaving a small cut and bruise above her left eye. They performed an exam that led them to have a primary impression of head injury and secondary oppression of lower back injury. They were concerned enough to place a cervical collar to protect her neck and noted differential diagnoses of possible spinal injury, head injury, and extreme cold extremities.

The ambulance crew called nearby HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood (formerly Kingwood Medical Center) for a trauma activation. This hospital is part of the HCA mega-chain of hospitals. At the time, it was a Level 3 trauma center.

According to Beckers Hospital Review, some hospitals charge over $50,000 for trauma activation fees, even for patients who have never been admitted. Trauma activation fees are built on top of the normal amount the hospital charges for emergency medical care.

Curiously, the hospital agreed to accept the patient even though it was operating in an “internal disaster status,” with no heating or operating room capability. Was there a financial motivation in that decision? It’s unclear to me what HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood thought they could do for this patient with a potential spinal cord injury or head injury.

Once she arrived at the hospital, an emergency room (ER) physician and two trauma team doctors assessed her. The ER physician ordered some basic CT scans. Even though the CT scan had abnormal findings, the ER and trauma doctors didn’t order an MRI scan. According to our medical experts, every trained emergency or trauma physician knows that an MRI scan is needed to show a spinal cord injury—and under these circumstances, it was required under the standard of care for a complete workup.

In a matter of a few hours, the emergency physician discharged the patient to home. A registered nurse in the ER documented in the medical record that the physician was “aware of patient weakness prior to discharge.” In other words, the patient had exactly the same symptoms and problems when she was being pushed out the door as she did when she arrived by ambulance.

I should point out that my use of the phrase pushed out the door is deliberate—the registered nurse got a tech to help load the patient into a wheelchair, because she wasn’t able to walk. This was an alarming finding to the emergency physician and nursing experts that we retained to review the case. They called it a red flag. The medical records show that the registered nurse knew something was wrong. Our nursing expert believes that she should’ve advocated against discharge because it was unsafe for the patient to go home. Nursing advocacy is one of the unique responsibilities of professional nurses. Our medical experts believe that the trauma and emergency physicians should have never discharged this patient without the complete workup she needed, which would’ve led to timely spine surgery.

Once the patient got home, she did not get better. In fact, her condition deteriorated to the point that she was taken by ambulance to another hospital, where an MRI scan revealed a spinal cord injury. Sadly, by then she was in neurogenic shock with organ damage. She had to be medically stabilized before she could have spinal surgery.

As a result of the delays by the medical and nursing staff at HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood, this person is left with permanent neurological injuries and is unable to return to work or her normal activities. Our medical experts contend that with proper care that first day, she would have been taken to emergency surgery to address her spinal cord injury and would likely have recovered.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor hospital or medical care in Texas, then contact a top-rated experienced Texas medical malpractice lawyer for a free consultation about your potential case.

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.


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