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“Dead in Bed” Claims on the Rise

Amanda Abbiehl was a happy, energetic teenager. She had just graduated from high school and was excited to start college. One day, she came down with a sore throat. Her symptoms were so severe that she was having trouble breathing. She was admitted to St. Joseph Regional Medical Center. Two days later, she was dead. According to autopsy reports, the official cause of death was cardiac arrest due to a virus.

However, in a lawsuit filed by Amanda’s parents against the hospital, it was alleged that doctors, nurses, and medical staff administered numerous drugs, including narcotics, which are known respiratory depressants. They argued that Amanda’s pain pump was improperly administered, and that she was not monitored properly. Amanda’s parents argued that the hospital’s negligence caused their daughter’s death.

Sadly, many families like Amanda’s are finding out about a deadly secret—that many hospitals experience the sudden, unexpected, and preventable deaths of their patients. Most of these claims occur after a surgery or medical procedure is performed, at a time when most assume the most serious risks have passed. In fact, it often occurs within hours of a procedure.

Respiratory depression

Respiratory depression, which causes low levels of oxygen in the bloodstream that may lead to cardiac arrest and brain damage, is largely responsible for these deaths. In some cases, opioid painkillers actually suppress the respiratory system to dangerous levels. These drugs may stay in a patient’s bloodstream for longer than anticipated after a procedure, which means that a patient may require additional monitoring. Respiratory depression may be attributable to:

The Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation has encouraged continuous monitoring of all patients, specifically by pulse oximetry. Pulse oximetry measures oxygen levels in the blood. With proper monitoring, nurses and other medical staff can be alerted if oxygen levels drop too low. Some hospitals have even installed wireless systems to alert doctors and nurses of possible developing respiratory depression.

“Dead in bed” incidents are so prevalent that in 2014 a dead in bed registry was created.  Sadly, many hospitals have not provided full reports, although more detail is needed for the sake of transparency and patient safety.

Financial considerations

Some argue that hospitals are providing excessive pain medication to patients, possibly with the hope of achieving higher ratings from various governmental or private ratings agencies that focus on patients having a “pain free” hospital experience. Higher ratings can equal more federal cash. In fact, the American Hospital Association has commented that the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Services (HCAHPS) indirectly may be contributing to an opioid epidemic. That Assessment is really a survey of patients, who are asked about how their pain was managed in the hospital. The less pain, the better the survey numbers; the better the numbers, the greater the reimbursement to the hospital from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Therefore, more pain killers translates to more money for the hospital. This can be a dangerous situation.

Interestingly, basic technology to measure oxygen levels in the blood stream is cheap—possibly as inexpensive as $25 per patient. Yet, up to 50,000 patients on “low risk” hospital floors have died or suffered serious brain injuries in the past ten years from respiratory depression.

How can patients evaluate hospital safety?

The Leapfrog Group provides letter grades to hospitals based on “patient safety, helping consumers protect themselves and their families from errors, injuries, accidents and infections.” It claims that “selecting the right hospital can reduce your risk of avoidable death by 50 percent.” Alarmingly, almost half of the hospitals in the country had a C rating or below. Others refuse to provide information necessary to be “graded.”

Did a loved one suddenly die in a hospital? Contact our Ohio medical negligence attorneys for guidance

If someone in your family was found dead in a hospital bed – especially after a procedure or while on opioid medications — your family may be entitled to monetary compensation. At The Eisen Law Firm, our medical negligence attorneys hold hospitals accountable when they prescribe unnecessary opioids or fail to properly monitor patients. To schedule a free consultation, call 216-687-0900 or contact us online.