Survivors of a woman who died in 2009, allegedly from conditions including the so-called swine flu, have filed a lawsuit against St. Peter’s Hospital in Helena and others, charging that she received inadequate care in the emergency room.
Brittney Niccole Norton was 27 when she came to the emergency room on Oct. 10, 2009, with severe flu symptoms, according to a complaint filed in District Court in Helena Sept. 5 by attorney John Doubek on behalf of the representatives of her estate.
She left the emergency room after about two hours “without being seen,” according to the complaint, and was referred to her primary care provider.
The complaint says one of her twin sons had tested positive for the H1N1 virus.
“Brittney should not have been permitted to leave the hospital without being seen and treated effectively by trained medical providers,” the complaint says. “It was negligence for those providers who saw Brittney Norton in the early afternoon hours of 10/10/2009 to simply advise her to follow up with her treating physician.”
She returned to the emergency room that evening around 7:30 again complaining of burning in her chest, tightness, a dry unproductive cough, anxiety, restlessness and wheezing, according to the complaint. She was advised again to see her primary care provider and discharged around 9:45 p.m., according to the complaint.
Her father called an ambulance two days later, and responders gave her a nebulizer treatment, according to the complaint, and she told the ambulance crew she would return to the hospital in her own vehicle. Her father drove her back to St. Peter’s.
This time, hospital staff decided she needed to be transferred to a pulmonologist in Great Falls, according to the complaint. She was flown to Benefis Health System where a breathing tube was administered and she died a short time later.
“The care Brittney Norton received (at St. Peter’s) was substandard,” the complaint says.
The lawsuit names St. Peter’s, Lewis and Clark Emergency Physicians and one of its doctors, although it doesn’t explicitly explain his role in the incident.
Hospital spokeswoman Peggy Stebbins did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, there were 18 deaths from the H1N1 virus in the state from August 2009 to May 2010, along with 182 confirmed hospitalizations.
There were also 808 lab-confirmed cases of H1N1, but DPHHS spokesman John Ebelt said that figure represents “the tip of the iceberg” because not every person seeks medical treatment for influenza, and even those cases may not be confirmed by testing as H1N1.
Most of the deaths were of people 45 or older, according to a DPHHS newsletter in late 2009.
According to published obituaries, Norton was born in Spokane, Wash., and lived in Helena the last two years of her life, working for the Montana Department of Justice as a clerk in the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Reporter Sanjay Talwani: 447-4086, email@example.com. Follow Sanjay on Twitter @IR_SanjayT