Archive for Thursday, October 7, 2004

Attorney still researching EMS case

October 7, 2004

An attorney representing a local woman seeking to change Leavenworth County Emergency Medical Service protocol said this week that he's investigating the case and that a civil lawsuit would be filed only as a "last resort."

"We're attempting to determine if there is basis and if the answer is yes, we'll take the matter up with people we determine are responsible," said Dan Mattula, the attorney representing Tammy Potts of Basehor. "We'll see if we can reach an agreement; if we can't, we would have no alternative."

The investigations committee of the Kansas State Board of EMS has been debating the merits of three complaints filed by Potts against Leavenworth County's EMS since June. The complaints stem from a decision by paramedics in November 2003 to not transport Potts' mother, Alene Wilson of Basehor, to the hospital.

The investigations committee met again last week, on Thursday, Sept. 30, in Topeka, to discuss the case. The committee addressed two of the three complaints lodged against Leavenworth County and agreed to resume deliberations in December.

Paramedics were called to the Wilson home in 2003 because Potts and her brother, Jim Wilson, feared their mother had suffered a broken hip. Wilson, who doctors had diagnosed as suffering from hallucinations and dementia, refused to be transported.

Potts, who possessed durable power of attorney documents granting her rights to make medical and financial decisions for her mother, showed attendants the DPA's and told them to take Wilson to the hospital.

They didn't. Wilson arrived at the hospital via her daughter's mini-van 17 hours after her fall. She died from pneumonia 14 days later.

Matula, who primarily handles civil litigation, specifically medical malpractice and nursing home negligence lawsuits, said in 36 years of practicing law, he's never quite seen a case as unique as the one brought forth by Potts.

"There is certainly indicators that medically the delay in getting Tammy's mother to the hospital contributed in some way to her passing," Matula said.

Matula said he and his client are concentrating on finishing research into the case before moving forward. "Once that happens, we may be in a position to make a claim," he said.

The complaints Potts lodged with the state medical committee deal with the failure of attendants to transport Wilson to the hospital in November and again in December of 2003; the second call was for Wilson to be transported from St. John's Hospital in Leavenworth back to her home in Basehor.

Potts also contends paramedics violated a legal document by ignoring the power of attorney agreements and treated both her and her mother in an unprofessional manner.

Potts said a lawyer with the Attorney General's office told committee members Thursday night that the durable power of attorney documents were valid and should have been honored by attendants. She also said investigation committee members told her they might choose to create a course for paramedics in which patient compassion would be stressed.

Neither the Attorney General's office or members of the investigation committee returned telephone calls seeking comment.

The committee did not address the failure to transport complaint stemming from December 2003.

"I do think it's a positive thing -- it will just expose them to just be more compassionate," said Potts, concerning the possibility of creating a new course designed to educate paramedics.

At the Wilson home in 2003, Potts said paramedics were surly and ignored her wishes, failed to read the power of attorney documents and Wilson's prior medical history of suffering from diminished mental faculties.

After the paramedics left Wilson, Potts scrambled to find an alternative means of getting her to the hospital. Eventually, Potts transported her mother herself.

At the hospital, doctors said Wilson was suffering from a broken hip, dementia and hallucinations. Once she arrived, days passed before doctors could operate on Wilson.

Potts said the investigation committee's attorney addressed a myth that a paramedic could be charged with kidnapping or assault for taking an injured person refusing treatment to the hospital. The attorney told those in attendance Thursday night that no such case histories could be found to date in the United States.

Matula said he and his client are more concentrated today with changing EMS protocol than winning a lawsuit.

"Tammy has maintained she's much more interested that someone is held accountable and responsible so that she can avoid her greatest fear -- that something like this will happen to someone else," he said.

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