By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A Hershey hospital has been cited by Pennsylvania health officials for failing to report the unexpected death of a six-year-old boy and failure to follow expected standards of care in treating him.
According to a lengthy state inspection report, the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center only notified the Pennsylvania Health Department of the death after an anonymous informant had reported the Jan. 11 death months after it occurred. Under state law and regulations the death should have been reported within 24 hours of its occurrence.
In response to questions about the citation, the medical center issued a statement acknowledging the delay in reporting the incident and also the fact that there was a 10 hour gap in the recording of the patient's temperature.
"The facility failed to meet the emergency needs of a patient with acceptable standards of practice," the inspection report states.
The boy, who was brought to the hospital's emergency room on Jan. 10, was placed in a warming device due to a low temperature. He had a temperature of 107.6 degrees when he was found unresponsive the next day.
"There were no vitals,"the inspection report states, adding that hospital staffers acknowledged the warming device, called a Bair Hugger," had been on high all night.
He was pronounced dead at 5:39 p.m. on Jan. 11.
In addition to the failure to report the death, the hospital was cited for failing to adequately train employees and failing to follow the warming device manufacturer's guidelines calling for temperature checks every 10 to 20 minutes.
In its statement, the medical center said management did not become aware of the incident until notified by the state following the anonymous complaint to the state Patient Safety Authority.
"This situation raised serious issues, and our response has been equally serious" the hospital said in its statement.
Acknowledging that the state found a total of five violations, the medical center
termed the incident an "unacceptable failure" and said corrective action was initiated as soon as it received notice of the anonymous complaint.
The state sent inspectors to the hospital on April 12 and they completed their review the next day. Because the inspectors declared a state of "immediate jeopardy," the hospital was required to respond immediately with a corrective action plan. The "immediate jeopardy" was lifted on April 13.
In its statement the hospital said the boy was suffering from "ongoing, complex and life limiting health issues" and "presumed sepsis" when he was brought to the emergency room in January.
After he was found unresponsive the next day, he was taken to the the hospital's pediatric intensive care unit but died later in the day.
The hospital said its own investigation found "an agency nurse was overseeing the child's care during the 10-hour gap in temperature documentation, and no one involved in the child's care reported the incident to our Patient Safety Department."
In its inspection report, the state said that the nurse in question said she knew she took the patient's temperature but forgot to document it.
"I did not have the computer with me. I was probably busy with something else," she told the inspectors.
The state found that although the nurse had been hired a year earlier, there were no evaluations in her file and core competency for use of the warming device "was not completed."
According to the hospital statement, the facility now limits the use of the warming devices to operating rooms "where patients are continuously attended."
Other steps include training for staffers, including those hired through an agency, on the use of such devices and audits to ensure serious incidents are properly reported.
"As an organization that holds itself accountable for providing the highest quality care while protecting the safety of patients, employees and visitors, we recognize this situation was an unacceptable failure," the hospital said in its statement.