A Russell County medical center must give copies of its internal practices and procedures for fall prevention to the family of a man who died from a fall at the center.
A federal magistrate judge in Abingdon ruled that the plaintiffs could have copies of the center’s practices, but she said that she merely was allowing discovery of the practices at an early stage of the plaintiffs’ lawsuit. A trial judge would have to rule if they could be used at trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent wrote in Fleming v. Mountain States Health Alliance (VLW 012-3-218) that the issue is one that has split state circuit courts across Virginia.
Fall at night
A man named Paul Fleming had been admitted to the hospital for pneumonia; he was assessed for fall risk and a bed sensor was on his hospital bed.
Early one morning he got up to go to the bathroom and slipped, hitting his head in the fall. He died later that day. The bed sensor was off at the time of the accident.
In their suit against the medical center, his family wanted to a copy of the hospital’s fall prevention practices and procedures, and to know how staff were trained on those procedures.
The defendants objected to turning over the materials.
Sargent noted that the Supreme Court of Virginia has not addressed the issue, so she looked to state trial courts.
At the center of a number of cases is Virginia Code § 8.01-581.17, the statute that provides for confidentiality of peer review among hospitals and other health care entities. The discussions and materials used in peer review are privileged, and some defendants have been successful get that privilege to extend to their practices and procedures.
Sargent said that the courts have split on this issue, though, and she found the cases that did not extend the privilege to have the better side of the argument; providing the procedures did not negatively affect any discussions that a peer review committee might need them for.
She also said that the procedures and the training manuals were relevant to the plaintiffs’ case and ordered their production.
Finally, the hospital said that there were no “incident reports” of Mr. Fleming’s fall, although there were two other reports that might contain factual information. Sargent again looked to the circuit courts, and there has been much litigation over those reports, with results going both ways.
She cited, among other cases, a 2003 Charlottesville decision finding that the peer review privilege should not be used to cloak documents not related to peer review.
Sargent ordered the center to give the reports to the plaintiffs.