|McClinton suffered for 19 days before dying due to Virginia Mason's preventable medical error|
The family of an Everett woman who died as the result of a preventable medical error committed at Virginia Mason Medical Center filed a lawsuit today against the Seattle-based private medical center and David H. Robinson, M.D. The Complaint for Negligence, Wrongful Death and Damages was filed in King County Superior Court, and seeks undisclosed damages for the preventable and painful death of Mary L. McClinton following a routine medical procedure.
McClinton died on November 23, 2004 at Virginia Mason Hospital, almost three weeks after a non-surgical procedure to treat a brain aneurysm. In what the hospital itself called an "avoidable mistake," staff at Virginia Mason injected McClinton with a toxic cleaning solution instead of either saline or the radiological dye routinely administered at the conclusion of the procedure. Prior to her death, McClinton suffered 19 days of unremitting pain, a stroke, two cardiac arrests, and in a belated attempt to save her life, the amputation of her leg.
While a spokesman admitted liability for McClinton's death, the hospital sought to steer the family into direct negotiations without the benefit of an attorney. They later declined to consider a settlement proposal submitted on the McClintons' behalf by their attorney, Lawrence M. Kahn of Bellevue, and have made no counter-offer for settlement at all.
The McClinton family hoped to avoid a trial. "A trial is the last thing this family should have to go through," said Kahn. "The fact that Virginia Mason has not even made an offer of settlement is shocking and disappointing to all of us, particularly since the Hospital already admitted liability for Mary McClinton's death. Nonetheless, the family is resolute and determined to show Virginia Mason's systematic failures and gross negligence at trial."
Virginia Mason gained international media attention following its well-publicized apology.
"Virginia Mason's statement was public relations spin pure and simple," said Gerald McClinton, one of Mary McClinton's four sons. "Apology is no substitute for atonement when our mother's death should never have happened."
On November 11, 2004, seven days after Mary McClinton was injected with the antiseptic Chlorhexidine, in an e-mail distributed to Virginia Mason staff and later obtained by the family, hospital administrators explained that the error occurred because Virginia Mason did not label the containers holding solutions, and that McClinton's condition was due to "the consequences of an avoidable mistake that caused massive chemical injury to her leg at the end of her procedure."
"While no single person is responsible, all of us are responsible," the memo stated. "Many were aware of the hazard in the system that could lead to injection of the wrong solution and aware of a simple method to prevent this occurrence. No one took action to change the process before this tragedy occurred."
Virginia Mason was well aware of the risks for its patients' safety created by using unlabeled containers in the sterile field -- or anywhere in the hospital. Nearly all other major hospitals in the Puget Sound area were following strict labeling policies and procedures for the operating room at the time. As Michael Cohen, President of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, recently observed, "Use of unlabeled containers and resulting mix-ups of various kinds of look-alike fluids have been implicated in patient deaths and injuries for decades and always pose a danger." The choice not to label is "totally unacceptable in any hospital," he said.
A tireless volunteer and civic activist, Mary McClinton devoted her life to helping others. Born and raised in Arkansas, McClinton was a professional social worker who worked in Alaska for almost 30 years. While raising four sons, McClinton fostered eight children and worked to help countless others. McClinton was an advocate for the disabled, poor, and Native Alaskans.
Her effectiveness was recognized by public officials around the state, and she achieved the rare honor of adoption into the Tlingit tribe, receiving the name "Jin-Koo-See'e" or, in English, "Hands that Make Dreams Come True."
A highly energetic and motivational personality, McClinton moved to Everett, Washington from Juneau in 1998 at age 61. She served as a counselor at the Central Area Motivation Project, a Seattle community service organization providing services including sheltering the homeless and offering employment and training programs to those in need. A devoted member of the Greater Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in Everett, McClinton taught and led special programs at the church school. She was instrumental in rallying the community and raising funds to build an outdoor athletic court for children attending the church school and after-school programs.
The McClinton family has established the Mary L. McClinton Foundation to carry on Mary's good works. The Foundation will focus its efforts on helping those in need where Mary McClinton's impact is most sorely missed: Southeastern Alaska and the Greater Puget Sound. The Foundation's mission is committed to honoring Mary's life as expressed in her Tlinget name: "Hands that Make Dreams Come True."
For more information on the McClinton litigation and the Foundation, please contact the family spokeswoman Susannah Peskin at 206-851-2256 or via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. For a free copy of the video that documents Mary McClinton's ordeal at Virginia Mason Hospital, "Mary McClinton: The Last Nineteen Days," please contact Peskin or mail a request to the Mary L. McClinton Foundation, P.O. Box 980, Mukilteo, WA 98275. For additional information visit www.marymcclinton.org.