The Transylvania Times -

Deal Reached After Death In Hospital – Transylvania County, NC


September 30, 2019

Transylvania County resident Kristen Blake Sheffield has reached an out-of-court settlement with Transylvania Regional Hospital (TRH) over a wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuit she filed after her 61-year-old mother, Linda Peters Watkins, died in 2016 in the hospital’s care.

As part of the settlement, Sheffield said she couldn’t reveal the financial amount. When reached for comment, a spokesman with HCA Healthcare, the parent company of Mission Health System and TRH, said the legal team was unable to comment on the suit or settlement.

In a phone interview, Sheffield said Watkins died Dec. 14, 2016, after a nurse failed to properly reset a crucial piece of medical equipment that was monitoring Watkins’s blood oxygen levels, and Watkins was subsequently found dead from acute hypoxic respiratory failure.

In court documents, hospital officials denied Watkins’ death was caused by negligence or failures to provide adequate care.

Watkins was initially admitted to the hospital the day before she died.

She was having trouble breathing, had a cough and fever, and had been suffering from a chronic lung disease.

Sheffield’s legal team said Watkins died after a nurse changed the battery in Watkins’ pulse oximeter (a small device affixed to a patient’s finger tip to monitor their blood oxygen levels) and did not properly reset the machine. In court documents, they said Watkins was “feeling better” at 10 a.m. on Dec. 14, 2016. At 8:45 p.m. on the same day, Watkins received respiratory treatment and was determined to have “normal” respirations when the battery was changed in her pulse oximeter machine. At 9 p.m. the lawsuit said another nurse came into Watkins’ room and “failed to recognize Ms. Watkins was not being monitored by pulse oximetry.”

At 10:45 p.m., a different nurse noticed Watkins “was off the monitor’” and found Watkins “slumped over with her head resting on the bedside commode,” with no pulse or respiratory effort. In court documents, TRH denied each of these allegations.

“It was almost a month after I had lost my mom that I get called to go down to the hospital for some unforeseen circumstances surrounding my mom’s death,” Sheffield said in the interview. “And when I get there, they go on to tell me that there had been an internal investigation with it.

“The nurse that was on duty had to change my mom’s battery pack to her pulse oximeter, and, when she did, it reset to spot check instead of continuous…and the nurse knew it, and she left it. Basically, she was at fault for my mom passing. They would have been able to catch her going downhill if she would have done her job correctly.”

Sheffield said that on top of the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that her mother lived with, she was diagnosed with pneumonia in the hospital, which meant she needed to be continuously monitored.

Sheffield, who is a certified nursing assistant, said hospital officials went on to explain that the hospital machinery was at fault and not their employees nor any processes.

“They told me that they were so sorry,” Sheffield said.

Sheffield said they told her the hospital “had created a job where somebody sits in front of the monitor and watches it at all times and that there’s instruction manuals to every piece of equipment in every department in the hospital now.”

Sheffield’s lawsuit was filed on Dec. 12, 2018, and the settlement was reached during mediation on Sept. 18.

When Sheffield’s lawyer asked her what she wanted to come out of this case, she said she wanted a “heartfelt apology from the nurse at hand, and I wanted her to lose her license.”

“In the state of North Carolina, she has to have multiple grievances to lose her license,” Sheffield said. “She’s still practicing with Mission. She didn’t get suspended. She didn’t get probation. She still has her job.”

Sheffield said the past few years have been difficult and that she’s been through a complicated grieving process while simultaneously pursuing legal charges.

“If anybody could take anything from this, it’s important to understand what your diagnosis is, understand what the protocol is in a medical facility,” she said.


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