Eddie Bernice Johnson’s family intends to sue hospital over congresswoman’s death – NBC DFW

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Attorneys representing the family of Eddie Bernice Johnson say an infection due to medical negligence led to a “terrible, painful death” for the former congresswoman and that they plan to file a lawsuit.

The family sent a mandatory pre-suit notice letter to Baylor Scott & White Health System and Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation on Thursday notifying them of their intent to sue for medical negligence.

According to the letter sent by Les Weisbrod, attorney at Miller Weisbrod Olesky, Johnson underwent back surgery in September 2023 and afterward was sent to Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation, a facility operated by Select Medical Rehabilitation Services, Inc.

The lawyer’s letter alleges that Kirk Johnson, EBJ’s son, arrived at the rehab facility to visit his mother and found her lying in her feces and urine and repeatedly pushing the call button for help with no response. Kirk Johnson said he went to the nursing station but found no one at the desk. He said he then found an administrator who accompanied him back to his mother’s room where they found nurses and staff cleaning up the feces.

The firm’s letter said the former congresswoman’s orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Andrew Park, noted she had some post-op complications in rehab and that after she’d been found in her feces she began having “copious purulent drainage from the low lumbar incision, which required surgical debridement.”

According to Weisbrod, laboratory wound culture reports from both Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation and Medical City Heart and Spine, where EBJ was transferred after the wound was discovered, showed the presence of organisms directly related to feces.

“The laboratory reports leave no doubt that the infection that killed former Congresswoman Johnson was caused by the failure of the staff at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation to properly care for Mrs. Johnson and allowing her to have laid in her own feces,” Weisbrod said in the notice.

After the infected wound was repaired by Park, Johnson was moved to a skilled nursing facility on Oct. 18 and then to her home on Dec. 18 with hospice care, Weisbrod said. She died in her home on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, shortly after celebrating her 89th birthday.

“We are shocked about the careless disregard for my mother’s care and well-being at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation. The name Baylor indicates a certain level of professionalism and the nursing staff and management fall far below a standard of medical care, especially in this situation,” said Johnson, the former congresswoman’s son.

Kirk Johnson said Thursday the condition he found his mother in was deplorable and that she should still be alive today.

“She thought that she wouldn’t live three weeks and she didn’t,” said Johnson, tearfully.

When asked for a comment about the notice, Baylor Scott & White told NBC 5, “Congresswoman Johnson was a longtime friend and champion in the communities we serve — she is an inspiration to all. We are committed to working directly with the congresswoman’s family members and their counsel. Out of respect for patient privacy, we must limit our comments.” Select Medical also issued a statement, saying, “Out of respect for patient privacy, we have no comment at this time.”

There is no cause of death currently listed on the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s record of Johnson’s death. Lawyers said Thursday that her death certificate indicates she died of osteomyelitis of the lumbar spine, an infection.

According to Weisbrod, the purpose of the mandatory pre-suit notice letters is to give the parties 60 days to attempt to resolve a claim before a lawsuit can be filed. Weisbrod said he “is hopeful that the Baylor entities will seek to settle this matter before a lawsuit is filed.” The owner of the rehabilitation facility, Select Medical Holdings of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, was not said to have been sent a pre-suit notice.

“It is abhorrent that former Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, or any patient, could be mistreated and left unattended by the nursing staff at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation. As this lawsuit moves through the Texas legal system, we will be fighting for justice for the Johnson family. Unfortunately, Texas law limits damages in the death of anyone in the state by medical negligence to $250,000 on the part of a hospital or rehabilitation center. This is a law that needs to be changed,” said Weisbrod in the letter.

Weisbrod met with members of the press on Thursday and said Johnson asked him to pursue a case over her mistreatment at the rehab facility. He said he thought it would be after she recovered. He added the intent to sue was shared Thursday because the family didn’t want the funeral to be held without people knowing what had happened.

Weisbrod added that the lawsuit could be avoided if the rehab facility sets up a foundation to promote the causes championed by the former Congresswoman.

Congresswoman Johnson was the first registered nurse elected to the U.S. Congress and retired in 2023 after 15 congressional terms representing the 30th Congressional District of Texas, which included Dallas County, a large portion of the City of Dallas, and the entire cities of DeSoto, Lancaster, Wilmer, Hutchins, and Balch Springs.

Services to honor and memorialize Johnson will be held starting Monday, Jan. 8 in Dallas leading up to her graveside service two days later in Austin on Jan. 10.

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