Three more people came before the Del Norte Healthcare District on Tuesday with allegations of mistreatment at Sutter Coast Hospital.
In a written statement before his colleagues, Healthcare District Director Dr. Kevin Caldwell said he and Dr. Greg Duncan have heard multiple reports from Del Norte County residents of alleged misconduct at Sutter Coast Hospital. Caldwell said he and Duncan have validated many of those concerns.
“Since our last HCD meeting, additional patients, their family members and hospital staff have contacted Dr. Duncan and me with very troubling reports of misconduct at Sutter Coast Hospital,” Caldwell said. “Some of the concerns brought to us involve apparent medical malpractice... Other complaints relate to irregularities in patient transfers, including refusal of Sutter Coast staff to transfer patients to higher levels of care in a timely fashion, and false statements from Sutter Coast staff that local families would be personally responsible for the cost of the transfer, which may exceed $60,000.”
Caldwell and Duncan created a healthcare district subcommittee to look into allegations of misconduct at Sutter Coast Hospital aired by four families at the district’s Sept. 26 meeting. Since then more people have come forward, according to Caldwell.
On Tuesday, Crescent City resident Jennifer Lockie spoke on behalf of her mother, Terry, who injured her back in June. Following X-rays in July, Lockie said her mother’s condition worsened. When an MRI was performed in October, Lockie said her mother had spondylosis and ruptured disks in her back.
Lockie said her mother was in such pain, her doctor advised her to go to the emergency room on Nov. 10.
“My mom’s not one for pain medication; Tylenol is the most she ever takes and the first thing they’re telling her is they’re not giving her any pain medication, that they don’t want her addicted,” Lockie said. “She was in so much pain and scared because she didn’t know what was going wrong.”
Lockie said doctors at the emergency room looked at her mother’s MRI and tried to transfer her to another facility but weren’t able to, so they sent her mother home and told her to return to the emergency room if the problem continues.
The following Sunday, Lockie said her mother was back in the emergency room with pain, numbness and tingling in her legs. She was unable to walk and was almost incoherent due to the pain, Lockie said.
“As the nurse put her on a gurney and started an IV, a man walks in, doesn’t introduce himself, and said ‘I saw you in September,’” Lockie said. “I looked at him and said I don’t think so, she hasn’t been here. He was the doctor. I tried to explain what she was going through... he walks out of the room, he never returns, he never assesses her, he does nothing. The only thing we hear from the nurse’s station where he was at was him telling the nurse ‘We don’t do pain management, discharge her.’”
Following that visit, Lockie said she went to her mother’s primary care physician who told her to take her mother to the emergency room in Medford. Once there, Lockie said, doctors started her mother on pain management and performed emergency surgery to return function back to her legs.
In a written statement her daughter read before the healthcare district board, Terry Lockie said she wasn’t in the Sutter Coast emergency room for long-term pain management.
“The pain I was in was beyond me,” Terry Lockie wrote. “If the ER is not here to help in one’s time of need then why is it here. I realize I was not dying at that moment, but my pain was ... I needed relief.”
Jennifer Lockie also spoke of how her grandmother was treated at the hospital, saying the doctor ignored an advanced directive that required medical staff to conduct CPR if her heart stopped. The following day, Lockie said her grandmother had a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) bracelet on her arm against her wishes.
Another resident, Charles McKinsey, said he went to the emergency room with a stroke, was told to take a urine test even though he couldn’t walk and had to wait four hours before he was seen.
A third resident, Sara Kruse, said she takes issue with the hospital’s practice of asking emergency room patients to fill out paperwork before they’re treated.
“The people are nice that come but this has happened to me a few times when I was in the emergency room,” Kruse said. “I resent the daylights out of it because when you’re there, you’re anxious. You may be hurt, you may be having a heart attack and the first thing you get is some lady coming to say sign the papers. The last time I just said absolutely not. I’m not in shape to read through four pages of stuff and sign it, thank you very much and goodbye.”
Both Duncan and Board Chairman Terry McNamara encouraged those who spoke to provide further information to the healthcare district.
Although he gave a hospital update to the district board, when approached for comment regarding the concerns aired at Tuesday’s meeting, Sutter Coast Hospital Administrator Carlos Priestly said he had no response.
During his report to the board, Priestly brought up Envision Healthcare, formerly known as EmCare, the physician’s group that staffs the hospital. In August, Priestly informed the district that Sutter Coast Hospital CEO Mitch Hanna had given the physician’s group until Jan. 1 to demonstrate evidence they are negotiating contracts with local insurance carriers. On Tuesday, Priestly said that was a “hard decision date.”
“As time passes it’s hard to envision that we will continue to contract with them,” Priestly said. “We are quietly and confidentially having discussions with other groups and that’s as much as I can say about that.”
The healthcare district board, Crescent City Council and Del Norte County Board of Supervisors has urged Sutter Coast Hospital to terminate its contract with Envision Healthcare, which operates out of network for most local insurers.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at email@example.com.