What you should know about pediatric medical malpractice in hospitals

We recently filed a federal medical malpractice lawsuit against Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine on behalf of the parents of an infant.

The lawsuit alleges that the little boy sustained a permanent brain injury caused by hypoxia (low oxygen) because the hospital was ill-prepared to handle a respiratory emergency for an infant.

When the little one had problems breathing after a procedure, his parents saw the registered nursing and respiratory therapy staff frantically looking for appropriately sized oxygen masks, tubing, and other emergency supplies. When they couldn’t find what was needed, the parents saw hospital staff members using their own hands to try to hold tubing together to create a seal around an oxygen mask.

On the physician side of things, our medical experts believe that the Baylor doctors weren’t attentive to the patient after the procedure and, if they had been so, they would have realized that he was not ready to breathe on his own.

If there’s any place where you’d expect a parent to be comfortable in getting health care for a child, it would be somewhere like Texas Children’s Hospital, with physician support from a major institution like Baylor College of Medicine. (I certainly hope this is a rare or isolated incident and that the leaders of both of these institutions have already undertaken steps to prevent this type of tragedy from happening to someone else).

Children’s hospitals versus regular hospitals

This got me to thinking. If this could happen in at a pediatric-focused hospital in the Texas Medical Center, what happens at other places?

A 2019 study concluded that the death rate of critically ill children is three times higher at hospitals that aren’t equipped to provide emergency pediatric care than at hospitals that have a focus on specialized healthcare for children.

One of the study authors, Dr. Jennifer Marin, a professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, put it like this, “It matters which hospital a critically ill or injured child is brought to in an emergency.”

The study compared outcomes at different facilities based on an assessment of each hospital’s pediatric readiness.

High-scoring hospitals have specialized equipment, training, policies, procedures, and protocols in place to provide the highest level of care to children.

Low-scoring hospitals are often located in smaller communities with no affiliation with a medical school.

A different study looked at over 4,000 hospitals in the United States and gauged their readiness on the scale of 1–100. The median readiness score was 69. That’s a pretty low score in most gradebooks.

Even worse, though, the study found that only about half of the hospital emergency rooms had a doctor and nurse with enough expertise to coordinate emergency care for children. Poor staff training can become a danger to patients when doctors and nurses aren’t familiar with age-based vital sign ranges, calculating weight-based medication doses, and what drugs are safe to be used in the care of children.

Inadequate staff training is certainly key. A lack of proper equipment is also a critical issue. While most emergency rooms have a lot of the recommended emergency equipment for pediatric patients, about half of the ERs don’t.

Pediatric medical malpractice at hospitals

As a parent, your safest bet in getting emergency care for your child is to select, when possible, a children’s hospital or a hospital with a dedicated children’s emergency room.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that medical malpractice will occur. It’s just that, in my opinion, it is less likely.

At a normal, non-pediatric hospital or emergency room, it’s less likely that the doctors and nursing staff will have the same degree of pediatric expertise than what’s expected at a children’s hospital. In other words, there is potentially a lower standard of care. These general emergency departments don’t exclusively focus on pediatric patients, but rather treat people of all ages and sizes.

One problem that we often see in pediatric care at general hospitals is that the healthcare providers don’t have a good understanding of when it’s time to transfer a pediatric patient to a children’s hospital that can offer a higher level of care.

Well-run general hospitals have policies, procedures, and training in place that define when a transfer may be needed and how to handle patient transfer to a pediatric hospital. Many hospitals have transfer agreements in place with outside facilities to make essentially seamless pediatric transfers to facilities that offer healthcare services including a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and pediatric-focused surgical and subspecialty care.

When doctors and nurses at a pediatric or children’s hospital make mistakes that seriously injure a patient, we believe that a higher standard of care applies. These facilities can be held legally responsible if they don’t have:

• Proper staffing with specialty-trained physicians and nurses

• Policies and procedures for age-appropriate procedures and medication administration

• Comprehensive emergency equipment and supplies immediately available for treatment of all ages and sizes of the pediatric patient population

If your child has been seriously injured at a children’s or general hospital, then contact a top-rated skilled Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for help in evaluating your potential case.

Robert Painter
Article by

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys 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 for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.