A family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital staff after their mother fell through an opening in an operating room table and fractured her skull on the floor. O’Donnell initially had entered the hospital to have her broken left hip repaired. That surgery went without complication. Catherine O’Donnell, 86, was operated on again to relieve pressure from internal bleeding in the brain, but died a week later, according to local news reports.
A nurse had removed a support strap from around the patient’s torso and moved to the side of the table to transfer her to a waiting bed. In the time the nurse walked those few steps, O’Donnell fell through the orthopedic surgical table opening. The nurse reached for O'Donnell, but not in time to prevent the fall. O'Donnell, 5' tall and 123 lbs, was under anesthesia and had a breathing tube in her mouth when she fell.
The patient's son and two daughters decided to remove life support after doctors said O’Donnell’s chances for survival were minimal.
This is not a common occurence, but in response to the medical error, the hospital changed procedures to prevent similar accidents. An investigation determined doctors and nurses in the operating room were preoccupied with standard duties and the "removal of the patient’s safety belt wasn’t verbally communicated to each staff member."
The hospital has adopted a protocol requiring all nurses and doctors to hold onto the patient before removing the safety belt and ensure staff are standing on both sides of the table during that procedure.