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Patient Bleeds To Death After Colonoscopy

Introduction

Bob Aller  Posted: February 18, 2019  Revisions: February 24, 2019

Last week Hospital Watchdog conducted an in-depth interview with Ms. Dena Royal, a former paramedic, and respiratory therapist. Dena’s mother, Martha Wright, bled to death following a colonoscopy and a series of tragic nursing mistakes at Cass Regional Medical Center in Harrisonville (pop. 10,000) Missouri.

Dena’s vigilance and persistence as a whistleblower led to an investigation by The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Based on interviews and a review of hospital records  CMS found specific events contributing to her mother’s death and issued findings in a Summary Statement of Deficiencies (posted below). Among the key problems, Martha had not been thoroughly assessed when changes in her condition occurred. In one instance, at 10:15 pm, (14 hours after the procedure), the RN failed to perform a thorough assessment that included vital signs and notifying the doctor. The CMS report also showed how after Martha’s death the hospital tried to cover up what happened.

Dena’s efforts to find out what happened were rebuffed by the hospital. When Dena requested an investigation it took 48 days after her mother’s death until the nurse caring for her mother was interviewed.

We’ve divided this report into two parts. Part 1, posted today, provides an introduction and brief overview for the case. Part 2, to be posted later, will drill down into much more detail.

Lack of Proper Nursing Care After Surgical Error

Martha Wright was pronounced dead at 5:14 am on August 3, 2018. About 21 hours earlier she had a routine colonoscopy at Cass Regional in Missouri.

Cass Regional Medical Center
Cass Regional Medical Center

The colonoscopy for Dena’s mother commenced at 7:50 am on August 2, 2018. Completed in fifteen minutes at 8:05 am, the procedure was seemingly uneventful.

General Surgeon Michael Kohlman
General Surgeon Michael Kohlman

The general surgeon who performed the procedure, Michael Kohlman, said: “colon looked great and no f/u needed for ten years.” There wasn’t a single polyp. But a CT scan performed the next day, (when it was too late), showed damage to her spleen from the procedure. After Martha’s death, in a phone conversation with Dena, Dr. Kohlman acknowledged possible spleen damage during the procedure.

Martha had stayed in the hospital overnight. The hospital’s policy required that following a colonoscopy a patient had to have someone stay with them for 24 hours after the procedure. (Martha did not have anyone to stay with her at home so she stayed at the hospital.)

After being rebuffed by the hospital, Dena filed a complaint with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Acting on behalf of CMS, state investigators arrived unannounced at Cass Regional on November 27, 2018. They spent 4 days at the hospital interviewing staff and examining documents.

Statement of Deficiencies Issued To Cass Regional 

After a review of the information gathered from the investigation, CMS ruled that the hospital staff had not met professional standards of care related to Martha’s care. CMS placed the hospital on an Immediate Jeopardy status.

The surgeon who performed the procedure, Dr. Kohlman, had not been called when he should have been called. At various times when Martha described her pain, she was told she needed to pass gas. But passing gas wasn’t the problem. Internal bleeding was the problem. Martha suffered from wheezing, hypoactive bowel sounds, left shoulder pain, she became pale, garbled her speech, held the left side of her forehead. She had nausea and was unable to take deep breaths. She was restless, grabbing at her chest and left upper quadrant.

Severe abdominal pain following colonoscopy, especially within 24 hours, warrants a high level of suspicion. In particular, the left upper quadrant pain and left shoulder pain that occurred here are specific signs of possible injury to the spleen. The nurse caring for Martha should have recognized these signs as serious. Injury to the spleen is a known risk from a colonoscopy.

Read the CMS Summary Statement of Deficiencies & Plan of Correction.

Martha eventually displayed agonal breathing (irregular breathing that occurs at the end of life). She was also non-responsive to sternal rubs. Finally, a code blue was called at 4:55 am. Heartbeat or breathing could not be restored. It was simply too late.

Hospital Attempted Cover Up

The record of events and documents reveal that the hospital then tried to cover up what happened. These actions involved violating applicable laws, regulations and a written agreement with CMS.

Physician Did Not Contact Medical Examiner
Medical Examiner
Medical Examiner

Missouri Statute 58.720 requires that the medical examiner should be immediately notified when someone dies in an unusual or suspicious manner. Bleeding to death following a colonoscopy is most certainly an unusual manner of death. A Cass Regional doctor should have notified the medical examiner of the circumstances of the death. If the call had been made, the Medical Examiner could have determined the precise nature of Martha Wright’s death.

Physician Appeared To Falsify Death Certificate

Six days later, on August 9, 2018, Cass physician Deidra Charles completed and signed a death certificate, listing Martha Wright’s cause of death as “natural.” Most certainly, this was not a natural death.

Line A of the death certificate stated in handwriting that the immediate cause of death was “Intraabdominal Hemorrhage.” However, the printed instructions on the Cass County, Missouri form required additional conditions leading to the cause. Dr. Charles omitted the additional information required by Missouri statute.

The instructions read: Sequentially, list condition if any, leading to the cause listed on line a. Enter the underlying cause (disease or injury) that initiated the events that resulted in death. Material omission constitutes falsification. 

Any physician who completes a death certificate is responsible for knowledge of the state statutes regarding medical certification of causes of death.

Cass Regional Board of Trustees
Cass Regional Board of Trustees: Toni Wiseman, Amy Catron, Chris Kurzweil, Danny Carmichael, Jerry Johnson
Board of Trustees Legally Responsible

According to its website, the hospital is owned and operated by Cass County, Missouri, and is governed by a five-member Board of Trustees elected by county voters. This hospital is a county government hospital, commonly referred to as a “district” hospital. The Board of Trustees has ultimate legal responsibility for events that happen in this hospital. It appears that Board oversight was lacking by allowing unlawful conduct and violations of Conditions of Participation with CMS.

Plan of Correction

After CMS issued its State of Deficiencies, Cass hospital responded, preparing and agreeing to a Plan of Correction. CMS designated the CEO, Chris Lang, as the responsible party.

We know something about the hospital. What about the patient?

Memories Of Mom

Dena shared some of her memories.

My mom shared her love of art and culture in our upbringing. Sundays were free at the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City, Missouri and she took us there often to soak up the exhibits. Every year we went to the symphony. She was known in our community for her green thumb. When she planted, flowers sprouted. She loved the birds in our neighborhood, especially hummingbirds. 

Martha Wright Celebrating Birthday
Martha Wright Celebrating Birthday

I live in the state of Washington and in recent years Mom has lived independently in an apartment near my sister in Pleasant Hill, Missouri. For a long time, Mom had no significant health issues. She took no medication. Her blood pressure was normal. Though she didn’t like going to the doctor, she didn’t have much need to see a doctor. Her physical health was blessed. Mentally, she was sharp as a tack and she could recall nearly everything that happened in our lives, including all the facts about our family history. 

Martha with grand-daughter Adrianna
Martha with grand-daughter Adrianna, a university track and field coach.

In the months leading up to the colonoscopy, she had been feeling tired, with some weight loss and signs of possible anemia. When she saw a doctor, a colonoscopy was recommended.

CMS Identified Marth’s Death As A Sentinel Event 

Martha Wright was in relatively good health when she went in for a routine colonoscopy. The treating physician and other medical staff must have recognized what happened. They were legally required by CMS to designate this “unanticipated event” as a “sentinel” event. However,  the hospital did not identify Martha’s tragic death as a sentinel event.

Sentinel Event Is A Common Hospital Term 

A sentinel event is defined by the Joint Commission as any unanticipated event in a healthcare setting resulting in death or serious physical or psychological injury to a patient or patients, not related to the natural course of the patient’s illness. Martha’s death perfectly fit the definition. When a sentinel event occurs, there are various required steps that must be taken.

CMS views a sentinel event as significant and requires an immediate investigation of the event and identification of the root causes of the problem, referred to as a root cause analysis or RCA. Once the problem is well understood, the hospital should promptly update policies and procedures and implement an educational program to bring staff up to date.

The reasoning is simple. If a hospital doesn’t correct conditions that led to an incident, it could easily be repeated. In this instance, Cass Regional blithely moved on and performed 348 more colonoscopies over a four months period, without taking preventive steps so that another tragic event like this one would not happen.

CMS found “these failures had the potential to place all patients in the facility at risk for their health and safety.”

The hospital management had temporarily placed CMS support in jeopardy.

Hopefully, the plan of correction implemented at Cass Regional has benefited the staff and the likelihood of another similar event had been significantly reduced.

In Part 2 of this post Hospital Watchdog will drill down and examine in more detail what happened in this case.

We welcome your comments and feedback.

7 thoughts on “Patient Bleeds To Death After Colonoscopy

  1. Ref: Bleeding death from colonoscopy

    Huge hole in this article. Patient had a colonoscopy. That is in the alimentary tract. How the hell do you damage the spleen from a colonoscopy. Really not possible. You are missing a huge piece of the puzzle here.
    If there is a perforation of the transverse colon, that would’ve been noticed immediately during the procedure. Otherwise there is no way in hell that you can lacerate the spleen from a colonoscopy.
    You need to get your story straight. Because Whoever wrote this article does not seem to have an understanding of basic anatomy

    Hemorrhaging was likely from an unrelated issue to the colonoscopy.

    Granted, patient assessment and vital signs should’ve indicated another problem.. But I’m not sure I can trust What you’ve reported given that huge omission

    Now as to prosecution. I think that depends on the actual facts of the case. If they did indeed cover things up. Liability should be assessed

  2. Shocking. This should be taken to a grand jury for indictments. The physician signing the death certificate committed a crime. Whoever falsified the documentation committed a crime. There should be one hell of a malpractice lawsuit as well but in this case, the physician signing the death certificate should be jailed and have their license pulled. The nurse who attended and the director of nursing should be in disciplinary hearings. Was there a hospitalist?
    At this point, the country should change out the administrator. This kind of activity couldn’t have gone on without the complicity or even active direction of the hospital administrator.

    1. It should be taken to a grand jury for indictment, but that will never happen. One reason that medical error is the third leading cause of death in this country is because hospitals and staff members who violate healthcare laws are rarely held accountable. There is no incentive for healthcare institutions to change.

  3. Very interesting, that what happened to Martha Wright in Harrisonville Mo ( Cass Counting Hospital ) happened to my mother also but my mother went in on July 2015 for surgery on her iliam to remove some cancer and went through the exact after care that Martha went through but there is much more to my mothers surgery. My mother told me that when she tried telling them the NURSES started being mean to her. THEY IGNORED MY MOTHERS CRY THEN SHE DIED. Shame on them

  4. As an MD
    and a husband of a nurse

    nobody is perfect, but many of the stories you see here and elsewhere are not about regular errors,
    but truly about overwork, poor training, or substandard or unconcerned staff – take your pick

    left shoulder pain in someone with abdominal pain should have told people that she was having an issue under the diaphragm or is having secondary heart problems.

    No caregiver should be ignoring postoperative symptoms out of normal

    The doctor can do nothing without being told of problems.

    However, further testing may have been indicated if the suspicion is high. These reports tend to be one-sided and I try to give the benefit of the doubt.

    I recently had a complication in a complex procedure which resulted in mild bleeding into the chest. I immediately consulted a thoracic surgeon who placed a chest tube, but the bleeding was mild and no other therapy was required. The patient recovered and I saw her last week. I also was sent one of her family members as a new consult – after the complication.

    Most problems will go away on their own. However some require direct therapy to avoid fatal outcomes.

    It is important to care more about the outcome than your reputation.

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