Oregon Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Over Emergency Room Wait

  • Written by: Staff Writers

A $2 million wrongful death lawsuit has been filed by the parents of a woman who was left unattended for six hours in an Oregon emergency room while she was dying of a pulmonary embolism.

The emergency room malpractice lawsuit, filed last month by Thom and Ann Barr, names PeaceHealth and Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend as defendants. The lawsuit alleges that their daughter, Martha Barr, was left to die in the waiting room for six hours while a blood clot made its way into her lungs.

Barr, 25, admitted herself to the Sacred Heart Medical Center at Riverbend shortly after noon on December 23, 2008. She was evaluated by triage personnel as suffering symptoms including shortness of breath, anxiety, fatigue, abnormally fast heart and respiration rates and low oxygen saturation. But she was not seen by a doctor until 6:25 p.m. that evening.

The doctor determined Barr was suffering a pulmonary embolism and requested that Barr undergo a CT angiogram to confirm the problem. However, she suffered respiratory and cardiac arrest at 7:45 p.m., and the hospital staff was unable to revive her. She was pronounced dead at 9:33 p.m.

The emergency room of the relatively new hospital was chronically overloaded after opening in August 2008, according to allegations raised in the complaint. The hospital saw 26 percent more patients than they initially anticipated, and PeaceHealth, which operates the hospital, announced that it was hiring additional staff to alleviate long wait times in the emergency room in September 2009.

An emergency room wait study published in November 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that nearly a quarter of patients in need of emergency care are not seen in a safe amount of time throughout the United States. Researchers found that the situation is worsening every year and could result in higher numbers of patient deaths in hospitals.

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, there are number of emergency room changes that hospitals can make to decrease wait times, including:

  • Condensing the number of questions asked by triage nurses, and having those nurses assign the patient to their next nurse.
  • Having patients see the doctor and nurse at the same time after passing through triage, instead of one after the other.
  • Equip emergency rooms with bedside supplies that address the most common reasons for emergency room visits.
  • Have information such as patient identification and insurance collected at bedside, once the patient is already being seen.

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  1. Darcy Reply

    This is very sad. Emergency Department overcrowding is a very real problem, however where I work we are in a part of the U.S. that doesn’t realize how good they have it. An hour is a long wait time in our waiting room. Emergency Department throughput is a huge “project” at our hospital. Patients are registered with name, DOB, chief complaint, and a photo ID at triage. All other information is collected or updated after they are seen by a practicioner. Many times if it is busy, the docs will see a patient before an RN. This is ok, because we are all there to take care of the patient. Even though it is not ideal, patients can be seen in hall beds. Better to be treated than waiting and suffering in the waiting room. I feel for everyone involved in this case, it no doubt feels awful when you know someone is suffering or hurting, and you can’t immediately do anything for them (been there). I can’t imagine the feelings of the staff that this woman lost her life.

  2. Claire Reply

    This sounds like a triage issue ther is always a way to make a bed for a true emergency, no matter how crowded the ER.

  3. Eric Reply

    This is all of our nightmare, the “higher ups” who don’t have a clinical clue, nor do they fill in for sick calls, leave us under staffed with pt’s like these coming in back to back. At my facility we are getting better at making the fakers per EMS as suitable for triage so we don’t have as much congestive bed failure. We really need to stop seeing the 4’s and 5 and take care of the 3’s and up. Some facilities have an attached clinic which they can turf too, that would be nice. It sucks that this happened and there is nothing that can be said to help them in their loss nor to help the staff through this frustrating situation

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