Beebe Faces Lawsuit in Teen Patient's Death - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Beebe Faces Lawsuit in Teen Patient's Death

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(Photo: WBOC) (Photo: WBOC)

LEWES, Del. - A Sussex County teenager spent some of the last moments of her life locked in a hospital restroom, struggling to breathe, as hospital staff members searched for a key, according to court records.

The family of Christina Atkins, 14, of Milton, has filed a civil lawsuit against Beebe Medical Center in Lewes.

Court records said staff took nearly 10 minutes to free Atkins, a freshman at Cape Henlopen High School. By the time a security guard gained access with a master key, Atkins was unresponsive, according to court documents.

"She was the nicest, nicest young lady," said mother Bonnie Atkins.

Bonnie Atkins said she took her daughter to the emergency room on May 26, 2011, due to complications from a urinary tract infection. Court documents state the girl experienced breathing problems in the restroom during a urine test and medical personnel were unable to make entry because they could not locate a master key. It's unclear what caused the respiratory issues.

Outside the restroom, Bonnie Atkins said she could hear her daughter gasping for air and frantically called nurses to unlock the door.

"She spent the last 10 minutes of her life suffocating on a bathroom floor, with her mother and sister standing outside the door helpless," said Bonnie Atkins in an interview.

Christina was transferred to A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children shortly after where she died two days later from complications related to a lack of oxygen, her mother said.

"We often wonder if she heard us," said Bonnie Atkins. "We often wonder if she knew were trying to get her help."

In an emailed statement, Beebe acknowledged the lawsuit and expressed sympathy for the family.

"With a lawsuit and litigation, we cannot speak specifically to the details of the case," hospital spokeswoman Kelly Griffin said.

The incident prompted an unannounced visit by health department inspectors in July, 2011. In a report obtained by WBOC-TV, inspectors found the hospital failed to maintain a safe setting in eight out of 12 restrooms that were checked.

In one case, the report states an inspector activated a restroom alarm during the visit and waited 47 minutes without hospital staff responding. The alarm failed to notify the emergency department of its activation, according to the report.

The next day, an inspector completed the same test in a different restroom and waited nine minutes and 37 seconds without response from staff, according to the report filed with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an entity of the Department of Health and Human Services. A security manager said the alarm failed to notify the emergency department of its activation, the report said.

The report went on to say that restroom locks had been changed in 2010 but new keys were not placed on the master key rings available to the ER charge nurse and security.

The report is referenced in the lawsuit.

As a result, the hospital installed key boxes outside of restrooms, conducted a key inventory, tested and made repairs to emergency call buttons and required staff to undergo training, according to the report.

"In reference to the report, our response and plan of action are in writing and the response speaks for itself," Griffin said, noting the changes Beebe undertook as a result of the visit were also listed in the report.

The Atkins family plans to launch a campaign to bring awareness to the issue. They also want Delaware lawmakers to require key boxes and emergency release buttons outside of all hospital restrooms.

"We don't want any other family to go through what we've been through," said Bonnie Atkins. "I want to educate and make everyone aware of what really happened to Christina."

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