Family sues hospital, doctor over woman's death

By Justin Anderson | Apr 2, 2009

CHARLESTON – The family of a deceased Kanawha County woman is suing Montgomery General Hospital for allowing a physician to practice in its emergency unit when the physician was not qualified.

Jamie L. Davis, as an individual and representative of the estate of Pamela Campbell Smith, Pamela's widower Harold Smith and Pamela's daughter Tiffany Neil are suing M. Anwar Abdeen, M.D., Montgomery General Hospital, EMCARE Inc. and EMCARE Physician Services.

The lawsuit was filed March 12 in Kanawha Circuit Court.

According to the complaint, Dr. Abdeen practiced emergency medicine at Montgomery General under a contract with EMCARE.

On Oct. 13, 2006, Pamela came to the hospital's emergency department by ambulance, complaining of hypertension, headache and vomiting. She was seen by Dr. Abdeen about five minutes after she arrived.

At that time, Dr. Abdeen prescribed Toradol for Pamela's pain and Phenergan for her nausea to be administered intravenously. These medications were administered at around 10:27 p.m., some 22 minutes after Pamela arrived at the hospital.

She was discharged at around 11:15 p.m. in a wheelchair, the complaint says. At around 3 a.m., Neil called the hospital, saying her mother was acting abnormally and was unresponsive. The charge nurse in the emergency department allegedly told Neil about the drugs her mother had been given and that "she should leave her alone and let her sleep it off."

A few hours later, Neil called the hospital to tell them that her mother had died. Physicians said Pamela had died from high blood pressure. The family says it had no reason to be suspicious about the death at that time.

On Jan. 21, 2009, Harold Smith got a letter in the mail that instructed him to call a telephone number if he wanted "to know why Mrs. Pamela Campbell passed away and what happened."

The letter wasn't dated and wasn't signed, the complaint says.

Shortly after getting the letter, the plaintiffs called the number and left a message. Dr. Abdeen returned the call, the complaint says. He allegedly admitted to sending the letter and send he was Pamela's attending physician on the night she came to the emergency department.

Dr. Abdeen told the family that Pamela had actually died because the nurses made a mistake in administering the medications, the complaint says. He allegedly further advised the family to get a lawyer and that he would testify on the family's behalf.

Dr. Abdeen told the family he no longer worked at Montgomery General Hospital, but did have possession of Pamela's original medical chart, the complaint says.

On Jan. 20, Dr. Abdeen called Davis twice and left two messages, the complaint says. The first message was asking if "everything was going all right."

The second message had Dr. Abdeen saying he was feeling guilty and that there was no medication error, the complaint says. Dr. Abdeen allegedly told the family that he sent the letter because he wanted to retaliate against the hospital over an employment dispute.

The family said it did some investigating and discovered that the level of care provided to Pamela at Montgomery General fell "well below" the accepted standard of care, the complaint says.

Both EMCARE and the hospital had been on notice that Dr. Abdeen was practicing below accepted levels of care prior to when Pamela arrived at the emergency room, the complaint says.

Dr. Abdeen had been removed as the emergency department medical director on Oct. 4, 2006, the complaint says, but he was still permitted to see patients.

The complaint says Dr. Abdeen had been employed with a medical center for veterans in Huntington before his privileges were withdrawn in Sept. 2001, the complaint says.

Subsequent to his termination, the director of that medical center reported to various medical licensure boards that Dr. Abdeen "so substantially failed to meet generally accepted standards of clinical practice as to raise reasonable concern for the safety of patients, as evidenced by the occurrence of multiple diagnostic and treatment errors during his clinical performance as an internist."

The complaint further says Dr. Abdeen is not board certified in emergency medicine, but an internist with a special interest in nutrition.

Dr. Abdeen and his former employer, Mountain Emergency Physicians, were also defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit filed on Aug. 10, 2006 in Kanawha County, the complaint says. That lawsuit was settled for a confidential amount.

Pamela's family is seeking various compensatory and punitive damages plus legal costs.

C. Benjamin Salango is representing the plaintiffs. The case is before Kanawha Circuit Judge Irene Berger.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 09-C-443

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