A forty-year-old army veteran died in Asheville, NC mere days after he and his family moved into a new home from a lethal medication error.While the hospital responsible for his care admitted to the mistake, it refuses to bear any responsibility for the actions that led to his unnecessary and preventable passing. He was admitted to the VA Medical Center for the treatment of an infection and was given four times the ordered dosage of a narcotic for pain control on two different occasions. The results were cardiac arrest and his subsequent death.
Jason Powell Was a Career Military Man
The Powells had just moved to Asheville after Jason received terminal leave in July of 2012. He had served the army for more than twenty years and had just celebrated his retirement. Coming down with symptoms of what he thought was a common flu, he was admitted to the VA Medical Center when he realized something wasn’t right.
The diagnosis was upfront— he had a perforated bowel and diverticulitis. In addition to antibiotics, he required medicine for the pain. His doctor prescribed Dilaudid, a strong narcotic similar to morphine. He and his wife expected him to be home in about a week or less, but tragedy struck when she went to visit him and he was unresponsive. His chart showed that nurses had given him the wrong dose of Dilaudid two different times.
Jason’s wife was informed that doctors were trying to stabilize him, but he was not responding. It was also then that they admitted to the mistake. Instead of receiving 1 mg of the medicine, he was administered 4 mg, leading to his eventual passing. The events that followed would force the Powell family to take legal action against the hospital.
VA Hospital Claims No Wrongdoing
Jason Powell died on Feb 6, 2012 following two different overdoses of a powerful narcotic. The hospital claimed that the cause of death was a heart attack and refused to take responsibility. The doctor who admitted the error went on to deny that it was the medication error that caused Powell’s death, claiming that because some time passed between the overdose and his heart failure that the two events were unrelated.
Records showed that the two overdoses happened inside of a two hour period and Powell’s attorney argued that it was impossible for the overdoses not to have played a significant factor in his death. The legal battle went on for another two years before the medical center agreed to a settlement out of court. One of the conditions of the settlement, however, was for the center to admit no wrongdoing whatsoever.
Further Investigation Shows Epidemic of Negligence
US Department of Treasury records show that the VA has settled almost 2,500 medical malpractice claims in a five year period. There were 29 claims settled in North Carolina alone for more than $9.3 million. Across the nation, there were 2,483 claims settled for over $554 million. A large number of settlements and damages should be enough reason to give pause and to demand greater oversight where it comes to the quality of care being provided to our nation’s heroes.
Jennifer Powell, Jason’s widow, is more concerned about what others have needed to endure in silence. To this day, the VA refuses to admit any wrongdoing despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary.
Medication Errors are a Leading Cause of Injury
Drug interactions, improper dosing and administration errors are among some of the leading causes of injury in hospitals and nursing homes across the nation. Hurried doctors and nurses account for many of these errors, as doctors may not check for interactions or may prescribe the wrong medication or dosage. Nurses often make dosing errors when rushing from one patient to the next and failing to check that the medication is correct and that the dosage administered matches the doctor’s orders.
While most medication errors cause only minor complications, there is the potential for disaster when stronger medications such as narcotics are involved. Investment in education and the employment of more qualified staff members may serve to allow nurses more time per patient to notice and correct any of these errors.