Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

Language barriers in health care can be a catalyst to providing health care that fails to meet the accepted standard for that specialty, which Bangor injury attorneys know is how we measure medical malpractice. Maine is not known for being especially diverse, but gains over the last 50 years have been steady, including more than 700 refugees from African countries like Ethiopia and Somalia, as well as migrant workers (primarily from Latin America) and France/Canada. As noted by researchers with Bowdoin College, Portland historically has had the most concentrated population of immigrants, though rising housing rates have meant many new immigrants are settling in newer areas in southern Maine. Although many hospitals are striving to become more culturally and medically competent in order to care for new immigrant patients, the reality is English proficiency and literacy has a big impact on a person’s ability to access health care – from setting up appointments to using public transportation to understanding preventative care.

A study published a few years ago by the University of California, Berkley School of Public Health and the National Health Law Program, reported at least 2.5 percent of medical malpractice claims involved a language barrier that was partially or substantially related to failure to provide appropriate language services. The cases identified involved patients who either died or suffered irreparable harm. Of those who died, two were children and three were adults.

In 32 of the 35 total cases wherein a language barrier was causal in a medical malpractice case, it was alleged the health care providers did not use competent interpreters. Several used family or friends as interpreters, including minor children.  In one instance, it was the decedent child who served as an interpreter before suffering respiratory arrest. In another case, it was the 16-year-old sibling of the child who died who served as an interpreter. At least a dozen of the medical malpractice claims involved alleged failure to help translate important documents. Another child suffered major organ damage, an adult underwent an unnecessary leg amputation and another was rendered permanently comatose.

Maine hospitals, nursing homes and other care providers are struggling to staff enough nurses to provide quality care to patients – something our Portland, Maine medical malpractice lawyers have seen lead to serious and even fatal medical errors. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that facilities with high patient-to-nurse ratios had higher risk-adjusted patient death and failure-to-rescue rates than those who had more nurses. Nurses who worked at poorly-staffed facilities were more likely to experience burnout, fatigue and job dissatisfaction, which also increased the number of medical errors they were prone to make.

Maine Health Care Facilities Seek Solutions to Nursing Shortage That Threatens Poor Medical Care

Recently, the Portland Press Herald reported a number of hospitals in Maine are getting creative with recruitment efforts, using staffing agencies to draw nurses from overseas, including countries like Jamaica, Nigeria and Ireland. Within the Eastern Maine Healthcare System (more recently changed to Northern Light Health) more than a dozen international nurses have been hired. More than two dozen are still working on a contract basis through a nurse staffing agency, and there is the possibility they’ll be hired by the hospital system after about two years. A dozen more are set to arrive in Maine in the coming months.

Meanwhile, other hospitals are hiring student nurses, giving them a job inside the hospital so they can “earn while you learn,” the idea being they’re more likely to stay in school and complete their degrees if they can earn a living while they’re completing their studies. Summer internships at Maine General, meanwhile, pay student nurses to shadow those working in nursing homes, cancer care units and surgical centers so they are exposed to a wide range of specialties within their field. The same facility allows nurses time to take on quality improvement projects, such as tackling a unit’s problem with patient falls or bedsores, paying them $3,500 to $5,000 upon completion.

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Data released from the Maine Medical Research Center indicates Lyme disease in Maine may be dropping off a bit due to hot, dry weather over the summer. However, this comes, as our Portland medical malpractice attorneys know, after a record-breaking 1,852 cases for the year in 2017. So far this year, 1,069 cases were reported, according to health officials.

Misdiagnosis of Lyme disease remains a cause of substantial consequence. Lyme disease, a bacterial infection spread by ticks, can be cured if treated very aggressively, particularly with early intervention. The hot, dry summers have resulted in lower numbers of ticks this year, which is good news. Unfortunately, people who are misdiagnosed for years suffer extensive health problems – up to and including death. Misdiagnosis of Lyme disease or delayed diagnosis denies a person critical medical intervention necessary to effectively fight the disease.

Misdiagnosis, or an overlooked diagnosis in general, is the most common type of medical malpractice in Maine. It’s important to point out that failure to diagnosis may not in and of itself be the basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit. It is when this failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis results in delayed treatment, improper medical care or no treatment at all – something that worsens a patient’s medical condition and prognosis – that can make such action (or inaction) potentially worth pursuing a Maine medical malpractice lawsuit. Continue reading

The house fire death of a patient who had been discharged from a hospital the previous night was the subject of a Maine medical malpractice lawsuit recently before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. There was no question the man’s death did not occur while he was on hospital property or under care of medical staffers. The issue was whether the hospital and other defendants were negligent in discharging the patient, whom plaintiffs asserted lacked the capacity to offer informed consent to that discharge.

In Oliver v. Eastern Maine Medical Center, the state high court affirmed the conclusion of the Superior Court, which found the hospital was not negligent in the discharge, despite the fact it was contrary to instructions given by patient’s children as his court-appointed guardians. The question became whether the patient was mentally fit to authorize his own discharge from the hospital.

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Central Maine Medical Center’s safety grade has dropped to one of the lowest in the state, in part because of problems with blood-stream infections. The hospital’s grade dropped from a B to a C — making it one of just two Maine hospital to receive a C grade, according to a recent report in the Press-Herald.

The report by a Washington, D.C. nonprofit reviewed cases of infections from 2016 and 2017 and cases involving bedsores and deaths from treatable complications in 2014 and 2015. It is the third time in recent months the hospital has come under attack as it struggles with bloodstream infections from central lines and catheters inserted into Intensive Care Unit patients. Late last year, Medicare announced it was penalizing CMMC for a second year in a row as a result of high rates of patient injuries and infections.

Hospital Infections a Hidden Risk & Growing Concern

The Lewiston Sun-Journal is reporting that for the second year in a row, the federal government will be penalizing a Central Maine hospital for its failure to curb sky-high rates of patient injuries and infections. The sanctions are being handed out by Medicare, which funds a significant portion of patient care costs. The news doesn’t come as a complete shock, given that the hospital’s accrediting agency released a report weeks earlier saying the facility had failed to enact proper procedures necessary to curb hospital-acquired infections. The provider was given one month to fix this issue or risk losing its accreditation, which could result in even greater funding losses. 

The hospital president released a statement indicating the hospital is working hard to improve on these issues, rather than shy away from them, and it aims to provide a safe space for patients and employees alike.

While it’s positive that the organization appears to be taking responsibility for these shortcomings, our Maine medical malpractice attorneys wouldn’t expect such a forthcoming attitude should a lawsuit arise as a result of these lapses in the standard of care. Most facilities and individual practitioners vigorously fight back against allegations of wrongdoing leading to serious injury, illness, or death of patients. Having an experienced attorney to help navigate such claims is imperative, since they are often much more complex and contentious than many other types of personal injury claims.

An apparent lack of communication between health care providers proved nearly fatal for a Maine man, to whom a jury recently awarded $1.785 million in a medical malpractice claim.

The patient, 71, and his wife, 63, from Millinocket, alleged harm to his health could have been prevented had health care workers acted according to professional industry standards – which is the proof burden required in these cases. The couple sought between $3 million and $3.7 million in damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, emotional distress and permanent damage to patient’s heart resulting from a months-long delay in treatment in 2010 for a strep infection. In the eight months between when the patient was first seen and when he had to undergo emergency open heart surgery, the infection caused severe damage to the valves in his heart.

The civil trial was heard in the Penobscot Judicial Center before a Superior Court justice.  Continue reading

In medical malpractice litigation, Maine is one of 30 states to enact a so called “I’m Sorry” law, also sometimes referred to as an “apology statute.” Essentially, our Bangor medical malpractice attorneys know these laws serve to shield health care providers who extend expressions of sympathy following an adverse patient outcome. The laws indicate those statements can’t be used later against the doctor or hospital as proof of an admission of liability.

However, as the recent case of Strout v. Cent. Me. Med. Ctr. shows, the law does not offer absolute protection with regard to these admissions. This is an important point to underscore because medical providers will often attempt to reach out to patients or surviving family in the wake of a poor medical outcome in an effort to minimize the damage, and perhaps deter the patient from filing a lawsuit. It’s important for individuals to save this correspondence, as it could later be useful for the case.

In Strout, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court was tasked with determining whether the trial court erred in allowing portions of a letter from the medical center’s president to the patient into evidence weighed by the jury.

When it comes to filing a successful claim of medical malpractice injury in Bangor, when and how you file is just as important as the substance of your lawsuit.That’s the lesson that can be derived from Frame v. Millinocket Regional Hospital, reviewed recently by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

The petitioner appealed a judgment entered by the lower-level superior court to dismiss her unsworn notice of claim to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, pursuant to the Main Health Security Act, as a properly-sworn claim was not filed within the statute of limitations.

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At the age of 22, a semi-professional baseball player was told if he wanted to live to see 30, he would need to have a pacemaker installed.Such major heart surgery, as such a young age, startled the young player, who had initially sought treatment after a brief fainting spell. But he trusted the doctor.

The surgery ended his baseball career, but he considered a fair trade for having his life.

Only, as both he and our Maine medical malpractice lawyers now know, it wasn’t necessary at all. Soon after he had the surgery, local news outlets began reporting on the fact that the cardiologist he had trusted was being investigated by state health officials for performing unnecessary surgeries.

The former ball player sought numerous subsequent medical opinions. All now say blood pressure medication was in order – but not a pacemaker.

That surgeon is now in prison, following a federal criminal conviction for unnecessary Medicare billings for dozens of heart surgeries that it turns out weren’t necessary.

Sadly, this kind of occurrence is not rare. USA Today recently reviewed years’ worth of government records and medical databases and found tens of thousands of instances in which patients received unnecessary surgeries.

Such procedures are more than a nuisance. They put patients at risk of very real, long-term harm. No surgical procedure is without the risk of complications, and sometimes, those risks might even include death.

Further bolstering this claim is a recent scientific review of every issue of The New England Journal of Medicine from 2001 through 2010. Researchers discovered 363 studies that examined some type of clinical practice. Of those, 146 involved a drug or procedure that was found to be no better – or sometimes even worse – than one that had previously been used.

More than 40 percent of these established practices were found to be ineffective or even harmful. The effect of 22 percent was undetermined.

Those practices found to be among the most harmful:

  • Hormone therapy in post-menopausal women;
  • High-dose chemotherapy treatments;
  • Stem-cell transplants;
  • Expensive and complex treatments for breast cancer;
  • Glucose-lowering measures for Type 2 diabetes patients in intensive care.

USA Today reports that somewhere between 10 to 20 percent of all surgical procedures may be unnecessary. In the last eight years, some 1,000 physicians have paid on medical malpractice claims that specifically related to allegations of inappropriate or unnecessary medical procedures. Roughly 50 percent of those cases involved a serious or permanent injury or death. A fair portion involved multiple plaintiffs.

Those cases are only the ones that landed in court. They represent just a small portion of the total number of unnecessary procedures conducted.

Unfortunately, there is no federal or state agency that keeps track of unnecessary procedures, and many doctors never face consequences. This is despite the complications, which can include:

  • Infection;
  • Chronic pain;
  • Permanent disability;
  • Death.

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