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Hospital Where Woman In Custody Died Cited For Deficiencies

hospital workers in hospital
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The hospital where a black woman died after she was forcibly removed from the emergency room by a white police officer was cited for 10 "deficiencies," including failing to properly examine the woman when she complained of difficulty breathing, state health officials said.

Elizabeth Dudek, the secretary for Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration, said Friday the violations at Calhoun-Liberty Hospital in Blountstown were "egregious." The hospital must submit correction plans by next Friday and if the problems are not fixed by March 1, it could be suspended from the Medicaid program. The 25-bed facility is also facing fines that could total $100,000.

The review comes after the death of Barbara Dawson, a 57-year-old woman who was treated in the emergency room Dec. 21 but refused to leave when she was discharged because she didn't think she was OK. She was handcuffed by Blountstown Police Officer John Tadlock and collapsed when he tried to put her in a patrol car. She died about 90 minutes later.

Three hospital staffers were placed on unpaid administrative leave. A nursing supervisor is still on leave, a paramedic who was working in the ER that night resigned and another employee returned to work but has not been put back on patient care.

Hospital CEO Ruth Attaway said they had started to take steps to fix the problems, especially involving the emergency room.

"We fully intend to fix the issues out there. We hope this will not create a further negative attitude about the hospital and are looking to make patient care better," Attaway said.

During its investigation, the Florida agency reviewed 24 emergency room visits and found violations with two of them, including Dawson's. The names of both patients were redacted, but the details of Dawson's case make it easy to identify her as Patient 10 in the report.

The 79-page report cited the nursing staff for failing to follow hospital policy when it didn't notify a physician or conduct an assessment to address Dawson's complaints and released her without her concerns being properly documented.

Dash cam audio and video released last month by Blountstown police showed a nearly 18-minute gap between the time Dawson collapsed and when she was taken back to the emergency room for a second time. AHCA also viewed the audio and video as part of its investigation.

In the other case, a patient in the emergency room was never treated. The ER was staffed by a nurse practitioner, who was not able to dispense medication. The patient told investigators that they never saw a physician or the nurse practitioner during the visit.

Changes at the hospital include hiring a nationally certified emergency nurse to manage the ER, hiring a licensed risk manager who will monitor patient complaints and a new chief nursing officer. The agency has also mandated that a physician certified in emergency care be hired as a consultant.

Dawson's family has hired attorney Benjamin Crump's law firm, which has handled cases including Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Lawyer Daryl Parks said the firm is continuing its own investigation.

"Without question you knew the hospital was primarily responsible for her safety and they did very little given the medical emergency," Parks said.

Hospital spokeswoman Sandi Poreda said Medicaid funding accounts to up to 18 percent ($1.5 million) of the hospital's operating budget.

The Rev. R.B. Holmes, a civil rights leader who appeared with the hospital chief at the news conference, said the community needs the facility.

"For 23,000 people in a rural area sometimes going there is a step to help them live. We need that hospital to be strong moving forward," he said.

The Blountstown Police Department, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Department of Health are also investigating. Federal health care officials are reviewing the state report.

Gov. Rick Scott's spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said the governor appreciates the state agency "holding Calhoun Liberty Hospital accountable."