'People could die': Woman says Aurora hospital's failure led to brain damage

AURORA, Colo. -- An Aurora woman went in for back surgery at the Medical Center of Aurora, but left with brain damage after she said hospital staff ignored basic patient safety standards in her hospital room.

Carol Bryn said broken call buttons and a deactivated pressure alarm on her hospital bed contributed to her falling while heavily medicated in the hours after surgery, an alleged violation of well-established "never events" identified by the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

"I had to use the restroom," she told Contact7.

Bryn said she remembers pushing the call buttons to summon a nurse, but they didn't work.

"Nobody came," she said.

In attempting to reach her bedside commode on her own, she said she almost immediately fell.

"I remember the corner of the wall coming straight at my forehead. It was like slow motion. I was going straight for the corner of the wall," Bryn said. "And then the next thing I remember, I was on the floor, on my back, covered in metal equipment."

The CMS defines "never events" as a "reference to particular shocking medical errors ... that should never occur."

There are currently 29 such "serious reportable events" including "patient death or serious injury associated with a fall while being cared for in a health care setting," according to government records.

PHOTOS: See photos of Bryn and her injury here.

Bryn's daughter, Ellory Hartnett, said hospital staff admitted to deactivating the pressure bed exit alarm, which would have notified nurses of Bryn attempting to leave her bed.

"They said that the night nurse who did the evaluation decided [Bryn] wasn't a fall risk, which was amazing to me because she was hallucinating when I saw her at five o'clock [that day]," Hartnett told Contact7.

She said the chief nursing officer also acknowledged the broken hospital bed call buttons.

The claims of negligence are now the subject of a lawsuit Bryn and Hartnett filed against the Medical Center of Aurora and its parent organization, HCA-HealthONE.

"It's dangerous," Bryn said. "People could die."

Bryn currently suffers from double vision and has to wear special eyeglasses, complete with a special tint, to correct that.

"Yeah, these are not Bono glasses," she said. "If I took these off and looked at you right now, there would be two of you."

Bryn said she had 20/20 vision prior to surgery.

She cannot read or look at phone and computer screens for long without suffering from painful headaches.

Bryn also has a scar running the length of her scalp where doctors had to perform a craniotomy to relieve pressure on her brain after the fall. They stapled her scalp back together.

Due to the litigation, the hospital's administration refused to respond to the specifics of Bryn's case in an email exchange with Contact7. But a spokesperson said, in part, "the safety and wellbeing of our patients is our top priority ... We take this matter very seriously."

However, in court records, the hospital's attorneys responded to Bryn's lawsuit generally denying the circumstances of her fall, but did not specifically explain how and why.

Bryn and Hartnett told Contact7 that hospital staff informed them that hospital policy changed in the wake of Bryn's case. They said multiple staff members must sign off before deactivating a pressure alarm on a patient's hospital bed -- especially for patients who are at a high risk of falling.

Bryn said the costs associated with her fall, paid for through Medicaid, nearly exceed $1 million.

"One annoying bed alarm being turned off can kill someone," she said.

Bryn is working with Reinan Law in Denver, which specializes in hospital and nursing home negligence cases. The firm was also involved in Contact7's investigation into unlicensed health care workers.

Bryn is seeking damages to cover the economic losses associated with the fall, such as not being able to work, permanent impairment and permanent disfigurement.

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