A Central New York hospital was recently fined $22,000 by the state's Health Department partly because a woman who was pronounced dead woke up just in time to avoid the harvesting of her organs by the hospital's doctors for transplant.
According to a Post-Standard report, the fine is the largest ever imposed against a Central New York hospital since 2002.
The state hit St. Joseph's Hospital Center with a $6,000 fine for the mistaken diagnosis of the woman, Colleen S. Burns, in 2009 and an additional $16,000 for leaving another patient unattended who fell and injured her head in 2011.
The hospital was admonished by the New York State Health Department that found their care of Burns in 2009 was not acceptable, and a federal agency criticized the hospital for not properly examining the case.
Shortly after Burns' arrival in the hospital's emergency room ailing from a drug overdose, the Health Department identified a number of missteps by the hospital in a review.
The staff failed to conduct treatment recommended to prevent the drugs Burns took from being absorbed by her stomach and small intestines and did not sufficiently test if she was free of all drugs. Burns reportedly overdosed on Xanax, Benadryl and a muscle relaxant.
It was also pointed out that not enough brain scans were performed and doctors had ignored the warnings of a nurse who noted that Burns was alive and her condition had been improving.
No effort was made by the hospital to examine what went wrong in the case until the state intervened.
The 41-year-old Burns, who lived in North Syracuse, subsequently recovered and was released from the hospital two weeks after the incident, but killed herself 16 months later in January 2011.
Burns' mother, Lucille Kuss, said having her daughter declared dead was a horrible ordeal for the family and doctors never gave her an explanation as to what went wrong.
"They were just kind of shocked themselves," Kuss told the Post-Standard. "It came as a surprise to them as well."
Burns, who was a mother of three daughters, was so depressed she was indifferent to the incident, explained her mother.
"She was so depressed that it really didn't make any difference to her," Kuss said. No lawsuits were mounted due to the mistake.
Hospital officials who refused to discuss the case at the request Burns' family noted that they were committed to the highest quality patient care.
"St. Joseph's goal is to provide the highest quality of care to every patient, every time," hospital spokeswoman Kerri Howell noted to the Post-Standard in an email.
She also noted that the hospital endeavored to followed strict policies and procedures for organ donations.
"These policies were followed in this case, which was complicated in terms of care and diagnosis," noted Howell. "We've learned from this experience and have modified our policies to include the type of unusual circumstance presented in this case."