Health Care

JoCo woman on fentanyl choked to death on her hospital breakfast, lawsuit says

Dead in bed: In-hospital opioid overdose

Sheree Thein says her mom died of an opioid overdose while in the hospital. Patient safety experts say it happens thousands of times a year nationwide.
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Sheree Thein says her mom died of an opioid overdose while in the hospital. Patient safety experts say it happens thousands of times a year nationwide.

A woman choked to death after staff at Overland Park Regional Medical Center gave her the powerful opioid fentanyl and then left her unattended to eat breakfast, according to a new lawsuit.

The suit, filed Friday in Johnson County, says that Mollie Watkins was admitted to the hospital in December 2016 for an infection. She was allegedly given fentanyl at 7:55 a.m. and then served breakfast shortly after.

“No one observed whether Ms. Watkins was appropriately awake to eat,” the suit says. “Less than an hour after being given the fentanyl, Ms. Watkins aspirated while trying to eat her breakfast.”

Representatives of Overland Park Regional’s parent company, HCA Midwest Health, said they couldn’t comment on the lawsuit Tuesday because they had just been served with it and hadn’t had time to review the case.

James Crabtree, the Lenexa attorney representing Watkins’ family, declined to comment beyond what was included in the suit.

According to online obituaries, Watkins was a resident of Overland Park and was 67 when she died.

Earlier this year The Star reported on “Dead in Bed,” a common phrase used in the medical community to describe people who die of opioid-related overdoses in hospitals. About 3,000 to 5,000 such deaths occur nationwide every year, according to patient safety groups.

Many of the victims are elderly, or “opioid-naive,” meaning they haven’t built any tolerance to the drugs.

Experts say nearly all the deaths can be prevented with proper patient monitoring, including in-person checks by medical staff and electronic equipment that measures breathing and heart rate and alerts staff of dangerous changes.

Watkins was “hooked up to monitors,” according to the lawsuit, but “nurses and staff failed to recognize that she was suffocating until it was too late to revive her.”

The lawsuit faults the hospital staff for “failing to keep Ms. Watkins under adequate observation, failing to respond to alarms in a timely manner, failing to observe the effects of the pain medication administered” and failure to recognize that while medicated Watkins needed help with daily tasks like eating.

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