Maine hospital 'commended' for admitting mistake in patient's death

While a Maine hospital was commended by a member of the state's Department of Health and Human Services for going public about the death of a patient who accidentally was administered a drug overdose, it is not known yet what kind of discipline the hospital faces. 

The patient, 51-year-old Timothy Harvey, entered Mayo Regional Hospital's emergency room in Dover-Foxcroft on June 4 for what appeared to be an allergic reaction--including "facial swelling" and "thickening of the tongue," according to the Bangor Daily News. After receiving an appropriate first dose of epinephrine (adrenaline)--0.3 milligrams--Harvey's symptoms dissipated. A second dose of epinephrine was given when the symptoms later reappeared, but that dose was determined to be 10 times the normal amount after Harvey complained of chest pains and shortness of breath. Soon after, Harvey collapsed and eventually died. 

"We're trying to be very transparent in disclosing what happened and express our sorrow and our apologies," Ralph Gabarro, CEO at Mayo, said according to the Daily News. "It's a nightmare for the entire medical community, but our feelings, what we're going through, pales in relationship to what the family is dealing with, and we understand that." 

Catherine Cobb, director of the Division of Licensing and Regulation Services with the state's HHS, said she had admiration for hospital's actions. Still, several people who commented on the story on the newspaper's website were more skeptical. While one commenter referred to the hospital's actions as "damage control," at least two more accused the hospital of "spinning" the story in their favor. 

In a similarly rare and tragic story, a man undergoing a liver transplant procedure to help an ill relative died at Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass., about two-and-a-half weeks ago, although in this case, the hospital did not go to the press. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is investigating the matter to figure out what went wrong, reports the Boston Globe

"If you do enough [of these operations], it will happen," said Dr. James Markmann, Massachusetts General Hospital's chief of transplant surgery, who estimated that only "one or two in 1,000" patients die from procedures. "It is a very safe operation, but the risk is not zero." 

To learn more:
- here are the first and second Bangor Daily News articles about the Maine incident
- read this Boston Globe piece