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March 10, 2011

Fla. medics accused of neglecting patient who died

By Molly Moorehead
St. Petersburg Times

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — Ernest Soltwisch, 75 and frail, went in for treatment at a wound care center and ended up with a fractured hip. After 16 days in the hospital, he developed a bacteria infection and died.

The question now before a jury is what caused his death?

His widow, in a lawsuit, says it was the negligence of the Pasco County paramedics who transported Soltwisch from the wound care center, where he displayed no symptoms of a broken hip, to the hospital, where he was crying out in pain.

Attorneys for Pasco County say Soltwisch's seizure caused his hip fracture. He had osteoporosis and was on medication that could make it worse.

At the end of testimony in the 2008 trial, Circuit Judge Lowell Bray granted a directed verdict to the county, deciding the case before the jury ever deliberated. An appeals court found fault with that ruling, and now a new jury is hearing the case.

On May 20, 2004, Soltwisch went to Bayonet Point Wound Care Center for treatment of an ulcer on his foot that wouldn't heal. He was put in a pressurized oxygen chamber, but sometime during the two-hour treatment, he began having a seizure and the staff called 911.

J. Steele Olmstead, who represents Michele Soltwisch, said paramedics documented Soltwisch's vital signs and loaded him onto a stretcher.

"He was responsive," Olmstead said, adding that Soltwisch responded to the pain of a needle stick.

"They did not document a single sign of a fracture," Olmstead said.

By the time he arrived at the emergency room of Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, which was just across the parking lot, a nurse there said he was complaining loudly of severe pain in his hip, Olmstead said.

Therefore the injury must have occurred in the ambulance, he said.

But Devon Ombres, an attorney for Pasco, said Soltwisch possessed an array of medical conditions that made him more susceptible than most to a seizure and a bone break.

He had osteoporosis and osteopenia. At 6-feet-4, he weighed only 136 pounds. He was diabetic and had a history of seizures and was taking a drug to prevent more of them.

After Soltwisch suffered the seizure, Ombres said, he wasn't completely responsive and couldn't let the people treating him know that he was in pain.

"At the ER there was no evidence of trauma other than the seizure, which was strong enough to cause the fracture," Ombres said.

Several staff members from the wound care center took the stand Wednesday. A therapist at the wound care center said she saw Soltwisch showing no signs of pain before he was taken in the ambulance.

The center's former director said the same. She also said the paramedics treated Soltwisch "professionally."

The trial is expected to last into next week.

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