Tag Archives: fatality

Death from Patient-Controlled Morphine Overdose

By ThinkReliability Staff

Could improving the reliability of the supply chain improve patient safety?

The unexpected death of a patient at a medical facility should always be investigated to determine if there are any lessons learned that could increase safety at that facility. A thorough analysis is important to determine all the lessons that can be learned. For example, the investigation into a case where a patient death was caused by a morphine overdose delivered by a patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) found that increasing the reliability of the supply chain, as well as other improvements, could increase patient safety.

The information related to this patient death was presented as a morbidity and mortality case study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The impacts to goals, analysis, and lessons learned from the case study can be captured in a Cause Map, a visual form of root cause analysis that develops the cause-and-effect relationships in sufficient detail to be able to find solutions that will reduce the risk of similar incidents recurring.

Problem-solving methodologies such as Cause Mapping begin with defining the problem. In the Cause Mapping method, the what, when and where of the problem is captured, as well as the impact to the goals, which defines the problem. In this case, the patient safety goal is impacted due to the death of a patient. Because the death of a patient under medical care can cause healthcare providers to be second victims, this is an impact to the employee safety goal. A death associated with a medication error is a “Never Event“, which is an impact to the compliance goal. The morphine overdose is an impact to the patient services goal. In this case, the desired medication concentration (1 mg/mL morphine) was not available, which can be considered an impact to the property goal. Lastly, the response and investigation are an impact to the labor/time goal.

The analysis begins with one impacted goal and developing cause-and-effect relationships. One way to do this is by asking “Why” questions, but it’s also important to ensure that the cause listed is sufficient to have resulted in the effect. If it’s not, another cause is required, and will be joined with an “AND”. In this case, the patient death resulted from a morphine overdose AND a delayed response to the patient overdose. (If the response had come earlier, the patient might have survived.) It’s important to validate causes with evidence where possible. For example, the morphine overdose is a known cause because the autopsy found a toxic concentration of morphine. Each cause in the Cause Map then becomes an effect for which causes are captured until the Cause Map is developed to the point where effective solutions can be found.

The available information suggests that the patient was not monitored by any equipment, and that signs of deep sedation, which preceded respiratory depression, were missed during nurse checks. Related suggestions for promoting the safe use of PCA include the use of monitoring technology, such as capnography and oximetry, and assessing and recording vital signs, including depth of respiration, pain and sedation.

The patient in this case was given PCA morphine. However, too much morphine was administered. The pump settings were based on the concentration of morphine typically used (1 mg/mL).   However, that concentration was not available, so a much higher concentration (5 mg/mL) was used instead. The settings on the pump were entered incorrectly for the concentration of morphine used, likely because of confirmation bias (effectively assuming that things are the way they always are – that the morphine on the shelf will be the one that’s usually there). There was no effective double check of the order, medication and pump settings.

Related suggestions for promoting the safe use of PCA include the use of “smart” pumps, which suspend infusion when physiological parameters are breached, the use of barcoding technology for medication administration (which would have flagged the use of a different concentration), performing an independent double check, storing only one concentration of medications in a dispensing cabinet (requiring other concentrations to be specially ordered from the pharmacy), standardizing and limiting concentrations used for PCA, and yes, improving the supply chain so that it’s more likely that the lower concentration of morphine will be available. Any of these suggestions would improve patient safety; implementation of more than one solution may be required to reach an acceptable level of risk. Imagine just improving the supply chain so that there would be very few (if any) circumstances where the 1 mg/mL concentration of morphine is unavailable. Clearly the risk of using the wrong concentration would be lessened (though not zero), which would reduce the potential for patient harm.

To view a one-page downloadable PDF with the outline, Cause Map, and action items, click “Download PDF” above. Click here to read the case study.

U.S. Teen Dies from Plague

By Kim Smiley

Few people think of the plague as a present-day problem, but a teen boy died of the plague on June 8, 2015 in Colorado.  Officials believe he was bitten by a flea carrying the disease on his family’s farm although the exact source of exposure isn’t known. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an average of seven cases of plague in the United States a year and a small percentage of these cases result in death.

A Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, can be built to analyze this case and better understand how a patient died of the plague.  The first step in building a Cause Map is to fill in an Outline with the basic background information to define the issue.  The Outline includes a place to list the impacts to the goals resulting from an issue to help define the scope of the problem.  Focusing on the safety goal for this example, a death would be an obvious impact.  Next, “why” questions are used to build the Cause Map.

So why did the teen die from the plague?  There are two causes that contributed to his death; first, he was infected with the plague and second, he wasn’t treated for the plague.  When there are two causes that both contribute to an issue, both are listed vertically on the Cause Map and separated by an “and”.  So why was the patient exposed to the plague?  Officials believe that he was bitten by an infected flea.  The bacteria that causes plague lives in rodents and their fleas.  Investigators haven’t been able to identify which species of rodent was the culprit.

The teen wasn’t treated for plague because it wasn’t identified that he had the plague until it was too late.  All forms of plague can be successfully treated with antibiotics, but the window for treating the illness before it becomes life-threatening can be relatively short and plague can be difficult to identify.  It is suspected that this patient had septicemic plague which occurs when the plague bacteria enter the bloodstream directly.  Septicemic plague is caused by the same bacteria as the more common Bubonic plague, but the symptoms are different and more difficult to identify.  Rather than the telltale presence of swollen, discolored lymph nodes (also known as buboes) caused by the Bubonic plague, the main symptoms of the septicemic plague are fever, chills and abdominal pain which are very similar to the flu and other common illnesses.  In this heart-breaking case, the family of the teen understandably believed he had the flu and he wasn’t treated for the plague in time to prevent his death.

As alarming as this case is, it is important to note that plague cases in the United States are very rare and occur primarily in two regions – northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, and southern Colorado and California, southern Oregon and far western Nevada. If you are planning to enjoy the outdoors in one of these areas, just remember that the best way to prevent plague is to prevent flea bites.

Click on “Download PDF” above to see a Cause Map and Outline for this example.

Disabled resident dies when caregiver falls asleep

By ThinkReliability Staff

A physically disabled resident in a New York state-run care home required checks every two hours to ensure he was receiving adequate oxygen.  On the night of September 10, 2013, his nurse fell asleep, and he went more than 8 hours without the checks.  During this time, his oxygen level dropped to 40% (anything below 90% is considered dangerous), and he later died of hypoxic brain injury.

Says Patricia Gunning, prosecutor for the New York State (NYS) Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, “This case serves as a tragic reminder of the serious risk posed by an all too common workforce problem of caregiver fatigue or workers sleeping on shifts.”

Sadly, “all too common” turned out to be all too true.  The NYS Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs was formed in mid-2013, and oversees agencies responsible for more than a million people in state care or state-funded nonprofits.  During its first year, it found 458 reports alleging abuse or neglect that cited a caregiver sleeping on the job.  This included caregivers who slept through a resident’s grand-mal seizure and a resident’s elopement, residents with unattended access to medications and food, and residents who were in a car driven by a caregiver who fell asleep at the wheel.

Even with a seemingly overwhelming problem such as this, progress can be made by looking at the specifics of one case, identifying causes that led to the problem, and developing solutions.  These solutions can then be considered for individual or widespread application.  We will examine the specifics of this case in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis, which lays out the cause-and-effect relationships leading to a problem.

The problem being examined is determined by the impact to an organization’s goals.  In this case, the resident safety goal was impacted because of the death of the resident.  The resident services goal was impacted because the resident did not receive adequate oxygen.  The compliance goal is impacted because of the felony charges against the nurse, who was sentenced to 90 days in prison.

Beginning with the most prominent impacted goal – in this case the resident safety goal – and asking “why” questions develop the cause-and-effect relationships that led to that impact.  In this case, the resident died from hypoxic brain injury (per diagnosis), from a lack of oxygen.  Due to the resident’s physical disability, his oxygen delivery equipment was required to be checked every 2 hours around the clock.  On the night of September 10 to September 11, more than 8 hours passed between checks, at which point the patient was found unresponsive.  (He died two weeks later.)

The resident’s oxygen delivery was not checked for more than 8 hours (as opposed to the required two) because the caregiver on duty had fallen asleep.  Testimony from the nurse in question as well as others from the facility describing sleeping on overnight shifts as a common occurrence.  Later research from the NYS Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs found that many incidents involving caregiver sleeping on duty involved staff working extended or otherwise non-traditional work shifts.  The nurse who fell asleep on duty worked 12-hour night shifts at a site where many signed up for overtime and just barely passed duty hour requirements.

In response to the numerous caregiver sleeping events it discovered, the NYS Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs has provided a toolkit aimed to protect people with special needs from caregiver fatigue.  The Center recommends that care provider agencies implement & regularly review policies meant to deter and detect sleeping on the job, establish contingency plans to relieve staff found unfit for duty, and provide assistance to residents in calling for help if caregiver is unresponsive.  Due to the myriad issues associated with caregiver fatigue, the American Nurses Association (ANA) continues to fight to reduce nurse fatigue, and possible harm to patients.

To see a one-page PDF with an overview of the investigation related to the resident lack of oxygen due to caregiver sleeping, click on “Download PDF” above.  Or, click here to learn more.

After Patient Death, CMS Surveyor Declares “Immediate Jeopardy” To Patient Safety

By ThinkReliability Staff

From the moment a patient arrived at an endoscopy clinic in New York on August 28, 2014, things didn’t follow the usual procedure.  The patient brought her own ear, nose and throat physician (ENT) to accompany her into surgery for an esophagogastroduoudenoscopy (EGD), though the ENT did not have privileges at the facility.  The patient signed a consent form for anesthesia, and the EGD and her vital signs were taken, though it appears her weight was either not taken or not recorded.

After a time out that was initiated by the endoscopy technician (as opposed to the anesthesiologist, as required by policy) for the EGD, the patient was administered Propofol for sedation.  After the patient was sedated, the ENT attempted to perform a nasolaryngoscopy, despite not having facility privileges or a record of patient consent, but the initial attempt appears to have been unsuccessful.  After the EGD was completed, the ENT performed another nasolaryngoscopy beginning at 8:28 AM and ending (per interview records) at 8:30 AM.

By that time, the patient’s condition was quickly deteriorating.  Her blood pressure had dropped from its pre-procedure level of 118/80 to 84/40, her pulse from 62 to 47, and oxygen saturation from 100% to 92%.  Both the Cardiac Arrest Record and the Endoscopy Code Blue Record indicate that at 8:28 AM (the same time the second nasolaryngoscopy was beginning) the patient went into cardiac arrest/ ventricular tachycardia and measures were taken for resuscitation (including assisted ventilation, chest compressions, and administration of epinephrine and atropine).

The record of the surgery note that the laryngoscope was withdrawn at 8:30 AM, at which time cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was undertaken.  The patient was resuscitated and transferred to a hospital, where she died on September 4, 2014.  The cause of death from the autopsy report was anoxic encephalopathy (brain damage) caused by hypoxic cardiac arrest (oxygen deprivation).

The day prior to the patient’s death, a surveyor from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) declared “Immediate Jeopardy” due to “significant findings . . . which compromised patient safety”.  Specifically, the surveyor noted that the facility had risked patient safety by allowing a doctor without privileges to be allowed in the operating room and perform a procedure, and not obtaining consent or performing a time out for a procedure that was performed.

The facility quickly submitted a corrective action plan that revised procedures allowing visitors to the facility, ensuring informed consent and time out procedures are used before every procedure, and providing training on these updated procedures to staff.  Immediate jeopardy was removed on 9/5/14, although the facility was still considered out of compliance with CMS requirements, and was given until March 2 to maintain its certification.  (CMS has not released whether the facility has been successful.)

A lawsuit is underway that may provide more detail as to how the CMS findings caused (or didn’t cause) the patient’s death.  At this point, what is known can be captured in a timeline (for a chronology of events) and a Cause Map (to capture the cause-and-effect relationships that led to the impact to the goals) to start organizing and presenting information logically.  As more information is available, the Cause Map can be updated.

To see the timeline and initial Cause Map, click on “Download PDF” above.


Infant Death Due to Infection from Water Birth

By ThinkReliability Staff

A recently-released study in the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal discusses causes of the death of an infant from legionellosis (commonly known as Legionnaires’ disease) apparently due to a contaminated tub used for a home water birth. While the tub had been disinfected since the birth (and so did not test positive for legionnella), it is believed that the source of the infection was the tub the baby was born in.

The investigation into the baby’s death discusses various issues with the home water births along with solutions. According to the study, Findings from this investigation revealed a gap in the standardization and implementation of infection control practices for midwives during home water births. . . recommendations included use of standard written procedures for employees and clients before, during, and after the water birth. These procedural documents were suggested to outline proper timing of tub filling to reduce proliferation of microorganisms, documentation of client awareness of possible risks when deviating from written procedures, and laboratory testing procedures to be followed when birthing tubs are suspected of being contaminated with Legionella or other pathogens.” The specific cause-and-effect relationships that led to the contamination and infant’s death can be viewed in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis, by clicking “Download PDF” above.

The birthing tub in this particular case was filled with private well water two days prior to the birth. Upon filling, enzyme-based, non-FDA-approved water purifying drops were added to the water and the water was kept warm and circulated in the tub until the delivery. The tub used was a recreational-grade, jetted tub with internal tubing that is not approved for use as medical equipment and is particularly difficult to disinfect.

There were no procedures provided by the midwifery center that discussed required steps before and during the water birth, though this is not uncommon. The study found that, although most certified nursing midwives supported water birth, only 30% had received training.

Shortly after the infant’s death, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a joint statement saying that water births should be avoided (see our previous blog on this topic). It’s unclear whether or not information regarding the infant’s death in January 2014 was known prior to the statement released in March, 2014, though one of the concerns with water births (along with drowning) was the possibility that the infant could obtain an infection from a water birth.

Over the summer, another infant developed legionellosis from a birthing pool in England, and the National Health Service banned the use of home birthing pools with built-in heaters and recirculation pumps. Internationally, there were no other cases of infants developing legionellosis from water births since the late 1990s.

Though water births or the use of specific types of birthing equipment have not been banned in the US, birthing in a tub is discouraged. The CDC study recommends that procedures and training about cleaning and the disinfection required before and during water births be developed and disseminated through the midwifery community and potential clients. While legionellosis in infants is rare, it is believed that additional cases may be discovered with better surveillance.

Read more: Fritschel E, Sanyal K, Threadgill H, Cervantes D. Fatal legionellosis after water birth, Texas, USA, 2014. Emerg Infect Dis [Internet]. 2015 Jan 7. http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2101.140846 DOI: 10.3201/eid2101.140846



Wrong Dye Injected into Spine During Surgery

By Kim Smiley

In the high stress, fast paced operating room environment, high consequence errors can and do happen, but the risk can be reduced by analyzing medical errors and improving standard work processes.  A recent case where a woman died unexpectedly after a routine procedure to insert a pump underneath her skin to administer medication offers many potentially useful lessons.  The wrong dye was injected into her spine during the surgery, which is the type of error that should be entirely preventable.

A Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis, can be used to analyze this issue.  To build a Cause Map, all causes that contribute to the issue are visually laid out to show the cause-and-effect relationships.  The general idea is to ask “why” questions to determine ALL the causes (plural) that contributed to the problem, and not focus the investigation on a single root cause because this allows a wider range of solutions to be considered.

So why did the wrong dye get injected into the patient?  The dye was injected because it was used during the surgery to verify the location of tubing that was threaded into the patient’s spine and the wrong dye was used.  The surgeon needed the dye to verify the location because the tubing was inserted during the surgery and it was difficult to see. The tubing was part of a pump that was being stitched under the patient’s skin to administer medication directly to the spine to treat symptoms from a back injury.  The patient had broken several vertebrae during a fall.

And now on to the meatier part of the discussion in regard to medical error prevention – why was the wrong dye used? The request for medication (dye) was given orally by the doctor to the nurse who passed it along to the pharmacy so it is possible that the pharmacist missed that the dye was intended for use in the spine.  The exact point where the work process breakdown occurred wasn’t clear in the media reports, but it is known that there were several checks in the process that failed for this type of error to occur.

Following this incident, the hospital did make changes in their work process to help reduce the likelihood of a similar error occurring.  The hospital now uses detailed written orders for medications except in emergencies when that isn’t possible.  The written order includes information about how the medication will be administered, which would have clarified that the dye was intended for use in the spine in this case.

Fire Door Falls on Dementia Patient

By ThinkReliability Staff

On November 7, 2013, during renovation taking place at a care home in Moston, Great Britain, staff responded to a cry for help, finding a resident underneath a fire door that had been removed and leaned against a wardrobe during the remodeling work.  The resident suffered a broken hip and died on December 2nd.  The management trust that operated the care home and the renovating firm were both fined under the Health and Safety at Work Act after a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the renovation area, which contained multiple hazards, had been left unlocked the night before.

According to HSE Inspector Laura Moran, “Both firms clearly knew there were vulnerable residents living at the care home but they still allowed the door to what was essentially a building site to be left unlocked on numerous occasions.”  Clearly multiple failures led to the resident’s death.  Diagramming the cause-and-effect relationships related to this issue can help clarify what happened, and offer areas for improvement.

We can perform an analysis of this incident in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis.  We begin with the impacted goals.  The patient safety goal was impacted due to the death of the patient.  In addition, the employee safety goal was impacted due to the potential for employee injury.  The fines can be considered an impact to the compliance goal and the patient services goal is impacted due to the insufficient protection provided for residents.

Beginning with an impacted goal and asking “why” questions develops the cause-and-effect relationships.  In this case, the patient death resulted from a broken hip.  The broken hip resulted from the patient being crushed under a fire door.  (It took 3 people to lift the fire door off the patient.)  The patient was crushed under the fire door because the fire door fell and the patient was in the renovation area where the fire door was located.  Both of these causes are required – had the fire door not fallen, the patient would not have been crushed, even if she was in the renovation area.  If the fire door fell but the patient was not present, the patient also would not have been crushed.  When both causes are required to produce an effect, the causes are joined by and “and” on the Cause Map.

The fire door fell as it was leaning against a wardrobe due to the renovation.  The patient, who suffered from dementia, was prone to wandering and was able to access the area under renovation because it had not been locked.  Neither the renovation firm nor the care home staff locked the area, or checked to verify that it was locked.

Other goals can be added as effects in the appropriate locations of the analysis.  For example, the patient services goal was impacted due to the insufficient protection of patients.  This occurred because the renovation area was unlocked and because the hazards in the renovation area.  (Beyond the fire door, the care home staff found exposed wiring, loose boards, and other potential safety hazards.)  The insufficient protection of patients resulted in the fine.  The impact to the employee safety goal was impacted due to the renovation area hazards as well.

Some amount of hazard always exists in construction sites – this is why hard hats are generally required.  It’s also why access to these sites is controlled.  In this case, limiting access to only those that need it was determined to be the best way to protect patients.  Because the previous process for ensuring the area was locked had failed, according to Inspector Moran, “Following the incident, the companies introduced a new procedure which meant workers had to collect and return a key at the start and end of each day, and lock the door when there was no one inside.”

The lessons learned from this tragedy are applicable not only to the specific situation of care homes undergoing renovation but to all those who have a need to protect a vulnerable population or limit access to a hazardous site to ensure safety.  Simple things like making sure doors are locked at the end of the day may save a life.


Gamma Camera Collapse Kills Patient

By ThinkReliability Staff

On June 5, 2013, a nuclear medicine scanner was being used for a diagnostic procedure at a New York Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center when the gamma camera collapsed on a patient, causing his death.  This issue can be examined in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis, in order to determine both the impact to the organization’s goals as well as the causes of the incident.

In this case, multiple goals were impacted, the first and foremost of which is the death of a patient.  This is an impact to the patient safety goal.  Had the camera collapsed at a different time, it could have also injured an employee, causing an impact to the employee safety goal as well.  The death of a patient due to a medical device that functions other than designed is a “Never Event“, or an event that should never happen in a medical facility.  The scanner collapse on a patient clearly does not meet the goals for patient services.  The property goal is impacted due to potential damage to the scanner. (None of the publicly released reports specified how much damage, if any, was caused to the scanner and camera.)  The scanners of this type from this manufacturer were recalled shortly after this incident, impacting the operations goal and necessitating inspection and/or maintenance activities provided by the manufacturer, an impact to the labor time goal.

Investigation conducted shortly after this patient’s death determined the collapse was caused by loose bolts.  The machines were quickly subject to a Class 1 recall with the FDA.  Sites with the recalled equipment were told to discontinue use until inspections and, if needed, preventive maintenance could be performed by the manufacturer.  Said the manufacturer’s spokesperson, “If no issue is found with the support mechanism fasteners, the site can resume use of the device. If an issue with the support mechanism fasteners is found on a system, the GEHC Field Engineer will coordinate the replacement of impacted parts, and ensure that the system is operating appropriately and meets all specifications.”

Publicly released information about the incident has not specified who was responsible for the preventive maintenance that may have determined the need for tightening the bolts.  However, inspection and maintenance costs were covered by the manufacturer of the devices.

Sites that are using the affected models should have been notified and should stop use until the recommendations of the recall are met.  Although details of broader solutions were not available, both the manufacturer of the devices and the healthcare facilities using them will surely take a look at the preventive maintenance schedule to decrease the risk of patient injury from this type of event.

To view the Outline and Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here to read more.

Lack of Available Treatment Leads to Fatal Heroin Overdose

By ThinkReliability Staff

The death of a young man in New Jersey on September 23, 2010 from a heroin overdose was tragic, but part of a trend becoming more and more common.  His death mirrors many of the other fatal heroin overdoses and by examining the issues that led to this fatality, solutions that could reduce the death rates from heroin overdoses across the country (and perhaps beyond) can be developed.

We will examine this particular case in depth by using a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis. First we capture the particulars of the issue – what, when and where – as well as the impact to the goals.  The fatality is an impact to the patient safety goal, while insufficient help being available is captured as an important difference, and is also an impact to the patient services goal.

Beginning with an impacted goal (in this case, the patient safety goal), we ask why questions to determine the cause-and-effect relationships that led to the impact.  In this case, the death resulted from a heroin overdose.  Overdoses typically result from use of this specific drug, with which overdoses are not uncommon.  Though it is not clear if this played a role in this particular death, heroin overdoses can occur after a user attempts to get clean and relapses.  If the user goes back to the dose from before ending use of the drug, the body (if it has been drug free for some period of time) is unable to handle it, resulting in the overdose.

In order to overdose, heroin use has to begin.  The use of heroin is rapidly increasing, with an estimated 669,000 users by 2012.  First-time users increased from 90,000 in 2006 to 156,000 in 2012.  The reason for the increase is believed to be the comparatively inexpensive cost compared to prescription opiates.  While a gram of heroin might sell for $100, crackdowns against prescription drug “pill mills” have increased the cost of prescription opiates (like OxyContin) to $1,000 a gram.

Once heroin use has begun, quitting is extremely difficult.  While withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening, they are extremely unpleasant (to use a massive understatement).  Because they are not life-threatening, emergency care is limited (the victim in this case was unable to be admitted to the hospital) and many insurance companies won’t cover treatment, which can be extremely expensive.  In 2012, only 2.5 million of the 23.1 million Americans who needed drug or alcohol treatment received aid at a special facility.

Hope for overdose victims is available in the form of naloxone.  Since 2001, the use of naloxone by emergency responders resulted in reversal of over 10,000 overdoses.  The Affordable Care Act should improve insurance coverage for treatment, though it may take years for this to be in effect and, with the treatment availability shortage, likely means that not everyone will get the help they need.

However, solutions that address the problem of heroin use itself are being developed.  According to Attorney General Eric Holder, “Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement and treatment.  The Justice Department is committed to both.   Since 2011, the DEA has opened more than 4,500 investigations related to heroin.  And as a result of these aggressive enforcement efforts, the amount of heroin seized along America’s southwest border increased by more than 320 percent between 2008 and 2013.   Of course, enforcement alone won’t solve the problem.  That’s why we are enlisting a variety of partners – including doctors, educators, community leaders, and police officials – to increase our support for education, prevention, and treatment.”  With the help of the federal and local governments, as well as dedicated families of users, it is hoped that the tide of heroin use will be turned.  This will be the most effective way to stop overdose deaths.

To view the Outline and Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here to read more.

Man Found Dead After Waiting 8 Hours for Emergency Treatment

By ThinkReliability Staff

A man seeking treatment for a rash at a Bronx hospital emergency room (ER) was found dead eight hours later, still in the waiting room, of as-yet unknown cause.  The incident is currently under investigation by the New York State Department of Health and the cause of death will be determined by a medical examiner.

When performing an investigation of a case like this one, it’s important to focus on the goals that were impacted by the incident and determine all the causes that resulted in the goals being impacted, not just finding one “root” cause.  In this case, the impact to the patient safety goal has clearly been impacted because of the death of a patient within the hospital itself waiting to be seen.  The patient service goal was clearly impacted because the patient did not see a doctor in the six hours – or more – between arrival and his death.  The schedule goal is impacted by the significantly higher-than-average wait at this particular ER.  Lastly, the labor goal appears to be impacted by insufficient staffing levels.

According to the hospital, the cause of the patient’s death is simple.  Per the Hospital spokesperson: “His name was called several times on several occasions, and he did not respond… People have personal responsibility when your name is called, you have to get up and see the doctor.”  The hospital says that all guidelines were met and, even goes so far to add that “probably this scenario in this shape and form has happened in any big hospital in New York City.”

Many don’t find that answer acceptable. Although hospital guidelines may have been followed, there’s no discussion of whether the guidelines were adequate.  It is apparent that the hospital guidelines do not include any sort of care or supervisor for patients prior to being called in to the waiting room.  However, there’s no discussion of whether that meets the standard of care expected of these hospitals.  As this lack of oversight resulted in the death of a patient going unnoticed – potentially for hours – in a hospital waiting room.

In addition, the incident has brought up questions about the impact of the long wait time.  The wait at the emergency room for this hospital is an average of 306 minutes – more than 5 hours.  The national average is 137 minutes and the average in the state of New York is 155 minutes.  When the patient was called, starting at 2 and a half hours after entry, he may have well been asleep, given that the next interaction he had was with a security guard who woke everyone in the waiting room at 2 a.m.  This periodic waking of people in the waiting room – meant to ensure that nobody was using the waiting room as a shelter – next happened at 6:40 AM, and is when the patient was found dead.  Unofficial reports suggest the patient may have been dead for hours.  The patient was last seen moving at 3:45 AM on security cameras.

These questions demonstrate the fallacy of the one “root” cause approach.  The hospital’s assessment begins – and ends – with placing blame on the patient for not responding to a call in the ER.  But this expectation may not be appropriate in all cases.  Although a shorter ER wait time may or may not have saved the life of the patient in this case, it would certainly ease the strain of an ER visit for most patients and potentially save a life.  There have been several publicized cases of deaths or significant disabilities resulting from waiting too long in the ER.  Certainly an incident like this occurring at a hospital merits a review of policies that allowed a man to die unnoticed by staff.

To view the Outline and Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here and here to read more.