Past deaths, present lawsuits
Just days after the Joint Commission awarded full accreditation to Enloe Medical Center, indicating that it was in compliance with all applicable standards, the past came back to haunt the hospital, in the form of television and daily newspaper reports this week that three malpractice/wrongful-death lawsuits had been filed against it and several of its doctors.
All three cases involved anesthesia-related hospital deaths that occurred before Enloe’s new CEO, Debi Yancer, took over last spring and were much reported at the time. Since she arrived, Yancer and the hospital’s clinical staff have strived to improve systems and patient care at the hospital, and the anesthesia team has been revitalized and improved. Yancer says evaluators from both the Joint Commission, which certified the accreditation on Jan. 16, and the state Department of Health Services have complimented the effort.
Still, she acknowledges, “it’s a hard thing for the staff to have in the paper again.” Besides, she added, the people at Enloe know the families of the patients who died are in pain, “and their hearts go out to them.”
The three cases involved two temporary anesthesiologists hired in 2006, at a time when Enloe had a shortage of the doctors because of a contract dispute that had ended in the rupture of its relationship with its long-standing anesthesia team, Anesthesia Associates of Chico, in favor of a new, smaller group called MedCorp.
One of the anesthesiologists, Dr. George Chalhoub, figures in two of the cases.
The first involves Chico veterinarian Dr. Henry Evers, 75, who died on Dec. 22, 2006, while having a brain tumor removed. According to court documents, the suit alleges that Chalhoub was incompetent and Enloe should have known that.
Chalhoub was also the anesthesiologist when Randall Perrucci, 44, of Gridley went to the Enloe Outpatient Center on Bruce Road on Feb. 7, 2007, to have an injured shoulder surgically repaired. According to the lawsuit, Chalhoub mistakenly injected Perrucci with a local anesthetic that is toxic to the heart. When the patient went into cardiac arrest, Chalhoub allegedly compounded the problem by putting a breathing tube down his esophagus, not his windpipe. Perrucci reportedly died within one minute.
The third case, that of Charles Hodson, 42, of Paradise, centers on anesthesiologist Dr. Jan Rosnow.
Hodson was transferred to the Enloe Rehabilitation Center after being severely injured in a Kern County boating accident and, on Oct. 11, 2006, underwent surgery at Enloe Hospital to repair a ruptured spleen. The suit alleges that Rosnow gave Hodson an anesthetic that was contraindicated for patients with recent spinal-cord injuries, which Hodson had, and didn’t have the antidote on hand when his heart stopped. Hodson spent four days on life support and died on Oct. 15.
Yancer said she would have no direct role in defending the hospital legally; that will be handled by attorneys for its insurance carrier. She added that she wanted the plaintiffs to know that the hospital thoroughly investigated itself following the deaths and has done everything it can to prevent such tragedies in the future.
The important thing for people to understand, she said, is that the hospital has greatly improved in the last year—so much so that the Joint Commission’s evaluation team had found four things it wanted to use henceforth as examples of best practices.
“I’ve been really encouraged as I’ve watched the progress,” she said, “and that’s what we’ve been hearing from our evaluators.”