Memorial Hospital to pay $3.8 million in medical malpractice settlement
Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital has agreed to pay $3.8 million to settle a medical malpractice lawsuit filed by the family of a woman who has been in a coma since 2015, when she went into cardiac arrest in an emergency room waiting area after being discharged.
Cynthia Gutierrez’s family claimed hospital staff disregarded signs she was experiencing heart failure when she came to the emergency room with labored breathing and a known history of diabetes and kidney failure, according to allegations outlined in a complaint filed in October 2016 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
Emergency room staff gave Gutierrez, who was 33 at the time, a narcotic and released her, according to the complaint. Her family sued the hospital, arguing the hospital has a pattern of avoiding care for indigent patients and those, like Gutierrez, covered by Medi-Cal, California’s health care program for low-income residents.
Vanessa DeGier, a spokeswoman for Memorial Hospital, said the Gutierrez family’s assertions “are inconsistent with our philosophy of care.”
“Santa Rosa Memorial and all those who work for us serve members of our community without regard to socioeconomic status,” she said. “Insurance and/or financial matters have NO influence on care decisions,” DeGier said in a statement.
The parties reached a settlement before they were scheduled to go to trial in November. It was approved March 29 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Illston.
The family’s attorney, Douglas Fladseth, said the agreement brings closure and crucial financial support for Gutierrez’s husband, José Huerta, and their three children, who were 15, 11 and 8 at the time she slipped into a coma. Gutierrez, who worked at the Panera Bread restaurant in Rohnert Park, is not expected to regain consciousness and remains under care at Kentfield Rehabilitation and Specialty Hospital, he said.
“It’s devastating to lose your mom and your wife,” Fladseth said.
DeGier said hospital officials couldn’t discuss details of Gutierrez’s case because of the terms of the settlement agreement. In an email statement, she said hospital staff serve anyone who comes to the emergency room, regardless of whether they are insured. “Caring for all people, especially the poor and vulnerable, is at the core of what we do and why we exist,” she said.
“First and foremost, our thoughts are with Ms. Gutierrez and her family and friends, who continue to grieve,” DeGier said in an email. “Circumstances like these are some of the most difficult we face.”
The Gutierrez family’s lawsuit details what they said was a pattern of grave missteps made by hospital staff when she arrived at the hospital about 3 a.m. Feb. 25, 2015. Her husband had taken Gutierrez there because she had been having trouble breathing since the day before.
Medical tests described in court documents showed Gutierrez’s blood sugar level was dangerously high. The test results, combined with results from a chest X-ray and other tests, showed “clear evidence of life-threatening disease” and “evidence of heart failure,” according to court documents
Emergency department staff gave her a dose of the narcotic Dilaudid “ostensibly for right hand pain,” the court filings state. The drug is also a respiratory depressant and her family alleged it was a poor choice for a woman having trouble breathing.