By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – A lawsuit has been filed against Morton General Hospital on behalf of an elderly woman who was discharged from its emergency room with two boxes of enemas and a misdiagnosis of constipation and died days later.
Gertrude Tibbetts was taken to the hospital with severe abdominal pain where she was given an injection of pain medication, and an X-ray and then released against her wishes a little more than an hour later.
“She was screaming in agony, stating ‘I can’t believe you are sending me home, you are killing me. No one survives pain like this’,” an attorney for her daughter states in court documents.
The visit to the East Lewis County public hospital was Feb. 26, 2010. Tibbetts, 96, was residing at a Morton nursing home so she and her daughter Jane E. Jones could spend more time together, the attorney wrote.
The attorney stated, when the nurse handed the boxes with enemas to the Heritage House representative, she asked why they couldn’t be administered at hospital. The nurse replied, the lawyer wrote, “What? Do you want a blow out in the van?” and three nurses burst out laughing while Tibbetts was screaming in the background.
The complaint filed in Lewis County Superior Court earlier this month for medical malpractice and wrongful death names the hospital, Dr. Thomas Calderon and three unknown nurses.
Tibbetts was brought back to the hospital the following day when the laxatives were ineffective and then transferred to Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia. There, doctors discovered she was suffering with peritonitis due to small bowel obstruction and perforation as well as kidney failure. She was given comfort measures and died Mar 2, 2010.
“For her age, Gertrude Tibbetts was a remarkable and strong woman who was cognitively bright, and full of life, personality and humor,” the Puyullap-based attorney Talis Abolins wrote.
Abolins alleges the hospital failed when it failed to admit her, and failed to provide appropriate evaluation and care.
“She suffered tremendous pain and suffering, humiliation and fear of her impending death in the hours and days that followed,” the attorney wrote.
Multiple messages left requesting comment from hospital administrators yesterday were unreturned. Attempts to reach Calderon were unsuccessful. The parties have 20 days to respond in court to the lawsuit.
Calderon was informally disciplined by the state Medical Quality Assurance Commission for his evaluation of the patient’s condition.
He agreed to two years of probation and to undertake extra education in exchange for the commission not continuing to pursue charges of incompetence, negligence or malpractice, according to documents filed with the state Department of Health.
The commission alleged that after ordering the shot of pain medication and an X-ray which was unrevealing, Calderon did not perform a subsequent examination of Tibbetts, according to the documents.
The stipulation agreement – signed March 11, 2011 – indicated he should be sanctioned at a level comparable to practicing below the standard of care, related to causing unnecessary pain, stating the failure may not have caused the death since early discovery may not have saved her life.
The doctor did not admit any of the commission’s allegations, but was cooperative, had no previous disciplinary action since being licensed in Washington in 1998 and was released from his probation this past March.
The allegations by the commission note the patient reported her pain level as 20 on a scale of one to 10, while nurses recorded it at 10; and at discharge, the patient described her pain as a seven or eight.
The lawsuit seek damages in an amount to “be proven at trial.”
Among the reimbursements sought are medical bills of about $6,800 from Morton General Hospital and almost $16,000 from Providence St. Peter Hospital.