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.