MGH Admits Fault in Accidental Death of City Hall Worker

March 16, 2011
By

By Seth Daniel

seth@reverejournal.com

Geraldine Oswald had a quiet and efficient career for two decades in the Revere City Hall Auditor’s Office.

She was the last person to draw attention to herself.

So, it’s with some irony and a lot of tragedy that her death has resulted in a high profile and media saturated lawsuit against the Mass General Hospital (MGH) – a suit that charges the elite institution with total negligence, so much so that a routine treatment led to her death by overdose.

Oswald died suddenly late last year, and it left many of her co-workers with questions, as she didn’t seem in such bad health.

This week, some of those questions have been slightly resolved with the filing of a negligence lawsuit by Boston Malpractice Attorney Andrew Meyer against the Mass General Hospital. The suit claims that MGH’s treatment of Oswald for an infection in her shoulder was so negligent that it caused her to die unnecessarily.

The suit – filed by her children and naming five doctors, two nurses and the MGH – contends that she went in for an infection in her shoulder, which she had broken earlier in the year. It was, according to the family, supposed to be a routine visit for a routine medical situation.

However, Oswald, 76, was apparently given a large  amount of blood-thinning medication. At the time she was bleeding internally and ended up bleeding to death over a period of 12 hours while lying in an MGH bed.

Oswald was given a dosage of the blood thinner Lepirudin at a level that was 30 times too high.

There is some discrepancy about just how sick Oswald was when she entered the hospital. There has been some contention that while she might have been coming for a routine visit, she might have also been more ill than she believed. That fact could have also contributed to her death.

A report from the state on that information is forthcoming, and could show that she was suffering from something more than just the shoulder problem when she entered the hospital.

However, MGH has acknowledged that a mistake happened that could have been prevented. They have also changed their policy concerning the administration of Lepirudin.

They have issued the following statement to the Journal on the matter through their spokesperson, Peggy Slasman.

“This event was a tragedy, and our hearts go out to Mrs. Oswald’s family,” read the statement. “We take all adverse events very seriously. When they occur, we strive to learn as much as we can about them and use the information to strengthen our systems to prevent similar events from happening in the future. In this case, as soon as we understood what had happened, we apologized and explained the situation to Mrs. Oswald’s family.  We undertook a thorough and extensive internal review of the case, and we communicated with family members throughout this process. We reported the event to the appropriate regulatory agencies and worked closely with them during their review. As a result of this event, we have made some specific changes to our practices to reduce the chance of such an event from occurring again.”

Family members have indicated that the apology doesn’t bring their mother back, and they also said that she wasn’t ready to die – that  she was preparing to go home when the accident happened.

Naturally, all explanations have been inadequate for a family that unexpectedly lost their mother.

The suit contends that Oswald lay in her hospital bed for an entire day overdosing on the blood thinner. As she got closer to death, she began bruising and bleeding visibly. She eventually was overcome by the drug and, once the error was realized, there was nothing anyone could do.

An official report in the suit indicated that the nurse knew the proper dosage, but accidentally entered the wrong number on the IV pump.

It was a fatal faux pas, and unbelievably so.

Mayor Tom Ambrosino said that most of Oswald’s co-workers in City Hall had been in the dark as to the circumstances of her death. Since November, many have been wondering what exactly happened. The suit, he said, did shed some light on the tragic mistake that claimed the life of a dedicated and quiet employee.

“From what I’ve read, it was an awful mistake,” he said. “Geraldine was a very well-liked and responsible employee here. I think everyone was shocked at the suddenness of her death last November. This suit provides some explanation for something that at the time seemed inexplicable.”

Oswald was a long-time widower who had lived on Camille Road and had worked for the City since 1990.

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