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Lawsuit contemplated by family of deceased man given wrong blood by E.J. Noble

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GOUVERNEUR — The family of a man who was given the wrong blood type and died two weeks later is considering a lawsuit against E.J. Noble Hospital.

Jack H. Hutton, 62, died Sept. 19 at his home in Richville, where he was under the care of his family and Hospice of St. Lawrence Valley.

“We feel he was not ready,” his wife, Linda A. Hutton, said.

Mr. Hutton was ill with lung cancer that had metastasized but Mrs. Hutton said her family believes E.J. Noble’s mistake led to his death from a stroke.

“Definitely,” Mrs. Hutton said. “The stroke was what took him. We didn’t put two and two together but my daughter looked it up on the Internet and it said getting the wrong blood could cause a stroke.”

The hospital’s medical staff critiqued the case and determined that the incorrect blood type did not cause Mr. Hutton’s death, Administrator Charles P. Conole said.

“No question it was an error. It had no impact on his demise,” Mr. Conole said. “He was seriously ill. Certainly the family has a right to research it.”

The state Health Department cited the hospital’s lab for serious deficiencies Aug. 25 and ordered a corrective plan. The department became aware of the incident involving Mr. Hutton Sept. 7. On Friday, it shut down the lab, which resulted in the closure of most of the hospital’s operations.

Mr. Hutton’s daughter, Lisa J. McAdam, said he went to E.J. Noble Sept. 5 because of a blood clot in his right leg and was given blood before he was transferred to University Hospital in Syracuse.

He was released Sept. 8 after the Syracuse hospital gave him more blood, repaired a hole in his stomach that had caused him to lose blood and a filter was placed to prevent the clot from traveling to his lungs, Ms. McAdam said. University Hospital told Mr. Hutton Sept. 7 that E.J. Noble had given him the wrong blood type.

“He passed away exactly two weeks after he received the wrong blood,” Ms. McAdam said. “I’ve researched and researched this. We are going to consult a lawyer and find out what our options are. This is a huge accusation and we want answers.”

Among her father’s last words were “if something happens to me, get a lawyer,” she said.

No autopsy was performed. The family knew Mr. Hutton was terminally ill but believes his death was hastened by the mistake.

“We knew he was going to go but we didn’t expect it to be that soon. He had cancer but if you looked at my father, he wasn’t on his deathbed,” Ms. McAdam said. “I am upset because E.J. Noble has not apologized to the family.”

The Health Department in its order noted that it became aware Sept. 7 of an incident in which a patient received the incorrect blood type because the lab switched samples while performing tests.

“In September, the department became aware of a patient incident and took immediate action to investigate,” Health Department spokesman Jeffrey W. Hammond wrote in an email.

After the transfusion incident, the Health Department asked E.J. Noble to cease all blood bank activities except for the storage of O-negative type blood, the universal donor, for emergency patients, according to the department’s order. All elective surgeries were canceled and patients who required transfusions were to be transferred.

“Shortly after, an additional serious deficiency was identified where the hospital was not able to demonstrate that it had the required proficiency to conduct STAT testing,” Mr. Hammond said.

STAT testing is done when lab results are needed urgently.

The hospital’s inability to correct its pattern of deficiencies and errors convinced the Health Department there was an imminent threat to patients. The hospital was ordered not to admit new patients and to close its emergency department. The hospital’s skilled nursing facility, Kinney Nursing Home, remains open.

The Health Department’s initial response came after a letter from ClearPath Diagnostics, Syracuse, to E.J. Noble Hospital of serious concerns with its lab. ClearPath terminated its lab management agreement with E.J. Noble along with the services of Dr. Kenneth B. Strumpf, a ClearPath employee who was at that time E.J. Noble’s lab director.

Neither a ClearPath spokesman nor Dr. Strumpf returned a call for comment.

The parting of ways was mutual, Mr. Conole said. The contract was to end at the end of September.

“We would not have renewed it. I should have moved quicker,” Mr. Conole said. “The issues that weren’t addressed, he took the route he was going to leave.”

Mr. Conole acknowledged Dr. Strumpf’s pay was sometimes behind because of the hospital’s cash flow difficulties.

“Have I paid everyone on time? I haven’t,” Mr. Conole said. “He still had a medical responsibility. He would have been paid up like everyone’s always paid up.”

E.J. Noble has hired Dr. Gregory A. Threatte, Syracuse, as its lab director and Mr. Conole met Tuesday with both Canton-Potsdam Hospital, Potsdam, and Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown, to discuss how each might assist with management of the lab.

Samaritan spokeswoman Krista A. Kittle said Samaritan will put together a letter of commitment outlining assistance for the lab in time for E.J. Noble to forward its plans Friday to the Health Department. Details are evolving.

“We will evaluate both,” Mr. Conole said. “We’ll have a decision by Friday and forward the information to the powers that be. The goal is to have a corrective action plan as soon as possible and get back on our feet as soon as possible.”

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