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Barbara Dawson’s Death: The Rest of the Story


57-year-old Barbara Dawson died Monday at the Calhoun Liberty Hospital (25 beds) in Blountstown , Florida (population 2,500) (25 miles from the next hospital) at around 6:24 AM.  She had been discharged from the hospital but refused to leave.  She was using an oxygen tank, but the hospital staff refused to return it to her and called the police when she would not leave.   A policeman put her in handcuffs and escorted her to his patrol car, but she collapsed while waiting for him to unlock the door.  He removed her handcuffs and staff put her on a gurney to return her to the hospital.   Supposedly her vital signs were OK when she was returned, but two hours later she was dead.  A bystander, related to her, claims that she had no pulse after she collapsed in the parking lot, but CPR wasn’t started until she was back in the hospital.

According to the Talahassee Democrat (a Gannett company), Ms. Dawson had been admitted Sunday evening around 10:30 PM after arriving by ambulance, complaining of stomach pain.  She was discharged early the next morning; in fact, she was thrown out for supposedly causing a disturbance.  She refused to leave and demanded further medical care, complaining of shortness of breath and “not feeling well.”

Apparently Ms. Dawson was disturbing because she was complaining loudly and questioning her care.

Ms. Dawson was a “frequent flyer”; according to the article, she had been in Talahassee hospitals 22 times since 1987, and apparently other hospitals as well.  No other details of her medical condition were given in that article.  She had been ordered to leave the hospital in the past, and police had been called to remove her before.

The hospital’s chief administrator and CEO is Ruth Attaway.  She gave the following statement to reporters later:

Attaway said blot clots in the lungs are hard to detect, often result in immediate death and are nearly impossible to treat.

The decision to remove her form the hospital was out of safety for the other patients in the 25-bed hospital.

As a matter of fact, the treatment required for a potentially fatal pulmonary embolism that is obstructing the flow of blood from the heart through the lungs is emergency cardiopulmonary surgery, an heroic procedure beyond the resources of any but the largest hospitals.  The diagnosis of a pulmonary embolism that is not immediately fatal requires a high index of suspicion and ventilation-perfusion radioscintiscanning, another facility that is only available in large hospitals.  Treatment of a nonfatal embolism is simple: large doses of heparin (requiring close observation and blood testing) for ten days, followed by coumadin for six months.

The most likely source of a pulmonary embolism is spontaneous clotting within the venous system, particularly the veins of the legs.  These veins are frequently enlarged and obstructed, particularly in obese individuals.

The local chapter of the NAACP has become involved, and lawyers are preparing a case against the hospital and the police.  It is unlikely that the policeman did anything untoward, but it is certain that the hospital staff failed to meet the standard of care, even for such a small hospital.

A side note about the hospital:

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the hospital’s former CEO Phillip Hill in connection with a more than $1 million fraud scheme. Hospital officials have accused Hill of creating between 50 and 100 fake invoices for medical supplies the hospital never received.


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