Family Sues Providence In Death In Hospital Basement

The family of a Vancouver woman is suing Providence Health & Services over her death in the basement of Providence Portland Medical Center.

Marilyn Williams sought treatment at the Northeast Portland medical facility on April 9, 2017 for an irregular heartbeat and congestive heart failure. X-rays showed she had a lung condition. Staff noted she was confused, PDF iconthe suit says, and even threatened to leave the hospital several times.

And then she disappeared, the suit says. She was found dead in the basement of the hospital next to an elevator. She was 67, the mother of four adult children and numerous grandchildren, said Jason Kafoury, a lawyer representing the family.

The suit accuses Providence of negligence in her death, seeking more than $1 million in damages.

This is the second lawsuit filed by the law firm of Kafoury & McDougal against Providence in just over a year involving the death of a patient who wandered away. In November 2015, Daniel Lee Evans was admitted to Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Southwest Portland. Suffering from dementia, the 59-year-old was unable to care for himself. Providence staff placed him on "a hold" and set up a bed alarm to alert staff in case he tried to leave. But the alarm ended up being turned off, and he slipped out of the hospital, the suit says. He was found cold and wet a day later by emergency personnel at a bus stop in Hillsboro. It was 38 degrees out. He developed pneumonia and later died.

PDF iconThat suit, which seeks $2 million in damages, is still churning its way through the courts.

Gary Walker, the chief spokesman for the hospital system, said in a statement that Providence regretted their deaths: “We’re deeply sorry for the losses these families experienced in 2015 and 2017. Providence has a history of providing excellent care in a safe environment for the hundreds of thousands of patients we serve each year.” The statement said the hospital would save any further comments for the legal process.

In this latest case, Williams was admitted to a cardiac unit at Providence Portland Medical Center and was assessed by a physician, who found her to be of sound mind, the suit says. Three days later, suffering respiratory symptoms, she was evaluated by Dr. Jeff Campbell. He ordered a chest X-ray and blood tests and put her on a ventilator, the suit says. He also prescribed medication to reduce fluid retention caused by congestive heart failure and a pill to treat anxiety, the suit says.

About two hours later, a nurse noted that Williams was anxious and was having more difficulty breathing. The suit says she displayed signs of increased confusion. 

"In the chart notes, she talked about leaving the hospital," Kafoury said. "I don’t think she knew where she was."

He said the hospital staff knew she was a flight risk and should have put an alarm on her bed to keep her safe.

Before dawn on April 12, an employee who entered Williams’ room discovered that she was missing, the suit says. She was not in the bathroom or the unit. More than an hour later staff found her in the basement. She wasn't breathing and didn't have a pulse. Kafoury said emergency personnel tried to resuscitate her but couldn't.

He said her death was tragic: "A grandma comes to the ER to be monitored for cardiac problems and ends up dead in the basement - how can this happen?"

The lawsuit accuses Providence employees of negligence in failing to:

  • notify an on-call physician of Williams’ deteriorating breathing;
  • monitor her oxygen levels and cardiac rhythm;
  • prevent her from eloping;
  • alert staff that she was at risk of elopement;
  • notify relatives that she had gone missing.

It’s unclear when Providence alerted her family. The Evans lawsuit also faulted Providence for failing to tell his loved ones when staff discovered that he was missing.

The Williams family wants more than money to compensate for her death.

"They want to find out what really happened," Kafloury said. They want to find out what the policies and procedures were that should have prevented this."

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected].

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