A Kansas hospital is being sued by two families after their loved ones died following surgery. The medical malpractice lawsuits seek answers and justice for the young lives these families have lost. Read on to learn more about these two tragic cases. If you experience any situation that you believe constitutes healthcare negligence, contact MedMalFirm.com to discuss your legal rights with our medical malpractice attorney.
Medical Malpractice Claim Information
Blue Valley Hospital in Overland Park, Kansas is the primary defendant in both lawsuits. The hospital opened in 2010 as a small facility offering a “more intimate hospital experience.” The hospitals original focus was weight loss surgery, but the range of procedures grew over time.
The owner of the hospital, Douglas Palzer, promised to offer more personal attention and an intimate setting for patients to recover. The Overland Park hospital only has three outpatient beds and four inpatient beds. Palzer has stated,
“our patients get a lot of personal attention.”
But personal attention is not what Travis Claussen or Joseph Metz received. According to the medical malpractice lawsuits their loved ones have filed, they received substandard and negligent care.
Travis Claussen Malpractice Claim Background
Travis Claussen was 40 years old in February 2018 when his chronic back pain escalated to the point of being debilitating. For many years, he participated in off-road motorcycle racing and was a “physical fitness buff.” At six-feet one-inch tall and 240 pounds, Claussen was not a good candidate for back surgery. Instead, a doctor at Blue Valley Hospital decided that he was young and healthy enough to have hip replacement surgery.
Claussen had the surgery. Shortly after he was discharged from the hospital he developed a surgical site infection. Thirteen days later, he returned to the hospital and was given intravenous antibiotics, pain medication and a wound dressing. After a week, he was again discharged. Over the following weeks he was readmitted on several occasions because the wound was not healing.
In April 2018, the hip implants were removed. During surgery, Claussen’s right femur was fractured. Medical records show that he was given large doses of narcotics and sedatives including fentanyl, oxycodone, ativan and valium. Just two days after the hip implant removal surgery Claussen was found unresponsive by a nurse.
Fifty minutes elapsed before Claussen was transferred to nearby Saint Luke’s South Hospital. The hospital is less than one mile away from Blue Valley Hospital. By the time he arrived, he had passed away.
Family Files Lawsuit
Claussen’s parents filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Blue Valley Hospital, two doctors and a nurse practitioner. They later amended the lawsuit to include Palzer, the hospital’s owner. The lawsuit claims that the hospital and staff were negligent in how they treated Claussen. One of the points made in the claim is the fact that the crash cart in Claussen’s room when he was found unresponsive did not have Narcan or epinephrine.
Narcan is stocked at the hospital, and despite the fact that Claussen had been given large doses of narcotics, no one attempted to use Narcan to reverse a possible overdose. An autopsy report lists Claussen’s cause of death as coronary artery disease. Fentanyl intoxication is listed as a contributing factor.
Palzer is named because, according to an attorney representing the Claussen’s,
“he’s directing a malfeasance on the part of the corporation, which directly resulted in our client’s death. He’s holding these hospitals out as being a full-service facilities when they’re not, and they’re not properly equipped to handle patients, including a seriously infected young man, which should not have been managed at that hospital. … And you know, he lost his life.”
The Claussen’s note that no one at the hospital, including the doctor, nurses and staff ever apologized for what happened to their son. There was no sympathy or regret.
Joseph Metz Malpractice Claim Background
Joseph Metz was 36 years old in December 2017, when he underwent spinal fusion surgery. His surgery was also performed at Blue Valley Hospital. He was discharged four days after his surgery despite the fact that medical records show he had a fever and pneumonia. The very next day, he was found unresponsive at his home. He died the following morning.
An autopsy was performed, which states that “oxycodone intoxication, along with underlying medical conditions” were contributors to his death. The concentration of oxycodone found in Metz’s system was “within the potentially fatal range” according to the autopsy report.
Following his death, hospital staff attempted to have the cause of death changed. A staff member even told an inspector for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that there was a fight over changing it, and a lot of blame going around.
Family Files Lawsuit
In October 2019, Metz’s two children (both minors) and a personal representative filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Blue Valley Hospital and two doctors. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants were negligent in their care of Metz following surgery. The hospital and doctors argue that his pre-existing condition is the reason for his death, and they deny all allegations.
Investigation Into Hospital and Staff Continues
Following the deaths of the two men, CMS opened an investigation. Inspectors interviewed staff members at Blue Valley Hospital, including nurses, doctors and pharmacists. The statements provided by some staff members are damning to say the least.
In regard to Narcan not being used to attempt to revive Claussen, one staff member noted that “We gave Patient 10 a lot of narcotics and I believe anyone with experience would have recognized a potential for narcotic overdose and would have tried at least one dose of Narcan.” Another staff member also notes that the symptoms Claussen experienced are consistent with overdose.
A CMS report finds that both men’s deaths are the direct result of “multiple failures by hospital staff to comply with conditions for getting Medicare and Medicaid funding.”
Hospital Goes to Any Length to Keep CMS Reimbursements
During the CMS investigation, it was discovered that Blue Valley Hospital did not meet the requirements for participation in Medicare reimbursements. The facility did not “primarily engage” in providing inpatient services. Therefore, CMS was ending their Medicare reimbursements.
In order to keep Medicare reimbursements, the hospital must average two inpatients per day, with an average length of stay of two nights. Without meeting this requirement, CMS regards the facility as a same-day surgical center. A pharmacy director who worked there in 2017 and 2018 stated it is her belief that Claussen was kept in the hospital without being transferred in order to help the facility meet the CMS requirements.
Another staff member, possibly an executive, also reports that the hospital has done extra surgeries in order to get their numbers boosted to keep CMS reimbursements. The staff member says that the hospital even offered gastric sleeve surgery for employees and their families offering to cover any cost over what insurance covered. It seems the facility has done around 50 to 60 such surgeries.
Hospital Sues Government Over Reimbursements
In 2018, Blue Valley Hospital filed a lawsuit attempting to keep their Medicare reimbursements. The lawsuit claimed that losing Medicare funding would harm patients and restrict access to crucial bariatric procedures. The hospital claimed it performed 35 percent of all Medicaid bariatric surgeries in Missouri. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit – a decision upheld by the appeals court.
In another effort to get around losing CMS reimbursements, Palzer purchased another hospital in Booneville, Missouri. The names of both facilities are now Pinnacle Regional Hospital. In January 2020, regulators demanded that the Booneville location upgrade sterile processing procedures. This upgrade was too costly and Palzer instead closed the facility.
Now, not only is Pinnacle facing claims of medical malpractice, the company is also facing enormous debt. Several vendors are suing the company, and the primary lender says that Pinnacle owes them in excess of $24 million. Pinnacle has since filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in an effort to reorganize the business. The Overland Park facility will remain open, and there are plans to reopen the Booneville location.
Have Questions or Concerns about Medical Malpractice?
Surgical errors, healthcare-associated infections, medication errors – these are just a few of the ways that hospitals, doctors and nurses make mistakes. Sometimes mistakes are just that. But unfortunately, most instances of medical mistakes are the result of negligence and are preventable. In the cases we discuss above, both men may have had a better medical outcome with proper medical care and attention when it was necessary.
If you have questions or concerns about a medical experience or outcome, do not hesitate to reach out for help. At MedMalFirm.com, we can help you sort through your medical situation and determine if you have a medical malpractice case. Similarly, if you have lost a loved one due to medical negligence, you may have a claim for wrongful death. In either case, we can help.
Get help with your questions and concerns by requesting a free consultation. You can contact us by calling toll free at 877-887-4850, or by completing our online form. Your initial consultation is free, so you have nothing to lose.