Death in Cayuga Medical ER Waiting Room: Lawsuit Filed

Categories Health Care, Ithaca

By Josh Brokaw

A lawsuit has been filed against Cayuga Medical Center in the case of the 52-year-old man who died in the Emergency Department waiting room on January 19.

The suit was filed on Monday, March 20 with the Supreme Court of Tompkins County, by Jeff DeFrancisco, a Syracuse attorney. The suit is filed for punitive damages on behalf of the estate of Lloyd Robert Phelps, and his brother and executor Allen Phelps.

Rob Phelps, as he was known to family and friends, was a Newfield High School graduate, according to his obituary, and was employed at the Tops Market in Lansing when he died.

Allen Phelps, a Cayuga County resident, told Truthsayers that a few things he has heard or read about his brother’s death in the CMC emergency department waiting room have bothered him.

‘Everybody thinks he was down [at Cayuga Medical Center] to sleep,” Phelps said in a phone conversation on March 23. “He was not sleeping – he was down there for help. A lot of people think he was on drugs, I heard that a lot. There was no alcohol in his body. No drugs. The autopsy said it was a treatable condition. He didn’t get the care he deserved.”

In the “facts” of the case, the lawsuit states that around 6 p.m. on Jan. 19, Rob Phelps was at a local grocery store with complaints “including shivering, gray skin tone, and sweating.” He arrived at the CMC ED at 6:16 p.m. by ambulance.

Largely, the timeline of the evening stated in the lawsuit line up with what the travel nurse “Roberta” told Truthsayers in our story that broke this news on February 6, along with the story told to other media outlets by CMC administrators in a round of briefings on February 8. The lawsuit alleges that Phelps was taken from the ambulance, failed to be triaged immediately, and then was sat down in the waiting room where he was found dead more than two hours later.

David Evelyn, CMC vice president of medical affairs, told Ithaca media that the travel nurse had not triaged Phelps when he came in, which the lawsuit cites as evidence of negligence. The lawsuit also alleges CMC allowed employees “to work in the emergency room knowing they were not trained in hospital policies and/or procedures.” “Roberta” told Truthsayers that she had never seen the CMC triage policy before the events of Jan. 19, but says she did perform triage on Phelps between 6:45 and 7 p.m.

Read More: Under Investigation: Patient Death in Cayuga Medical Waiting Room

In the lawsuit, CMC is named as a defendant along with three people listed as registered nurses, the supervising emergency room physician, Cayuga Emergency Physicians LLP, and “Corporation X,” a stand-in name for the travel nurse provider of the nurse who was supposed to triage Phelps.

Read More: Cayuga Medical Investigation Update: ER Nurses Talk Triage

The lawsuit names Lisa Carrow as the registered nurse who was supposed to triage Phelps. Carrow is not “Roberta” in Truthsayers’ earlier stories about this case. Two sources in the CMC ED say that Carrow is a receptionist, not a RN. “Roberta” says that Carrow was working on the night of Jan. 19.

UPDATE, March 23: Carrow responds in the comments: “I can clarify that I am NOT a registered nurse. I am an Admitting Clerk.”

Truthsayers has reached out to DeFrancisco for clarification. A call has also been made to John Turner, CMC vice president of public relations, for comment.

The defendants “failed to appropriately assess and triage the decedent before referring the decedent to the waiting room which are deviations from accepted medical standards and against hospital policy and procedure,” the lawsuit states.

CMC “had insufficient staffing to appropriately assess, monitor and treat patients in the emergency room,” the suit continues, and “many complaints were made” to CMC “about it having insufficient staffing and that patients were at risk of injury prior to January 19, 2017 and Defendant Center did nothing about it.”

Read More: CMC Nurses Say Staffing Levels Unsafe

Scroll down for a full PDF version of the lawsuit.

In other Cayuga Medical Center news for March 23, a judge ruled that two nurses fired last October must be returned to work, pending the outcome of an ongoing National Labor Relations Board trial.

Truthsayers will continue to monitor the goings-on at Cayuga Medical Center. Click here to read more TruthSayers reporting about Tompkins County’s only hospital.

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Josh Brokaw is an independent reporter based in Ithaca, N.Y.
Email josh.brokaw@truthsayers.org with tips, story suggestions, and gentle criticism.
Twitter: @jdbrokaw

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