BENNINGTON, Vt. -- The widow of a Pownal Select Board member who died in 2011 is suing the local hospital, accusing it of causing her late husband's wrongful death, by allegedly not following its own protocols for patients at risk of falling.
The complaint was filed with the Bennington Superior Court Civil Division on Feb. 20 on behalf of Jean Prouty, the widow of Donald E. Prouty Jr. who died on Sept. 6 at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. He was transferred there from Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, where the complaint alleges Prouty suffered the fall that caused the complications leading to his death.
According to the complaint, written by Bennington attorney David F. Silver, Prouty went to the SVMC emergency room on Aug. 22, 2011 complaining of head and neck pain from recent incidents where he had fallen down. He was also suffering dizziness, lightheadedness, loss of balance, visual hallucinations, delirium, confusion, disorientation, impaired judgment and loss of memory.
Prouty had long been suffering from Hepatitis C, which according to those who knew him, said was from his time in the U.S. Marine Corps. When serving in the Vietnam war, he contracted the disease from needles while being inoculated en masse with other Marines. According to the court complaint, the disease led to him having cirrhosis of the liver.
Silver wrote that SVMC personnel determined Prouty was at a high risk of falling and ordered fall prevention measures be taken, among them a pressure-sensitive alarm on his bed that would alert staff if he tried to leave it, "personal sitters" who would be in the room watching him when he did not have a visitor to make sure he did not move without assistance, and having his room near a nurse's station so he could be monitored more closely.
Silver alleges that on Aug. 25, Prouty got out of his bed to use the restroom and on his way back to bed he fell, fracturing his pelvis in multiple places, and began to bleed internally. This required him to be sedated with narcotics which caused him to have breathing problems. Silver wrote that Prouty's liver worsened, leading to pneumonia, leading to "Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome."
The complexity of his health problems led to Prouty being sent via helicopter to Dartmouth-Hitchcock where he remained until his death.
"Donald E. Prouty Jr.'s death was caused by complications from his multiple pelvic fractures," Silver wrote.
The complaint alleges that there was no sitter in Prouty's room and the bed alarm had been deactivated. It claims negligence on behalf of SVMC and accuses it of being responsible for Prouty's wrongful death.
"As a direct and proximate result of Defendant Southwestern Vermont Medical Center's nursing personnel's breach of the standard of care, Plaintiff Jean Prouty suffers the loss of the love, affection, society, solace, comfort, advice, support and companionship of her spouse, Donald E. Prouty Jr.," Silver wrote.
A response to the complaint was filed on March 25 by Attorney John D. Bruce, of Bruce & Kelly, P.C., of Burlington, Mass., who represents SVMC. In it he denies the allegations made against the hospital.
Bruce did not return calls seeking comment.
"The premature death of Donald Prouty was a tragic loss for the Prouty family and this community," wrote Silver in a statement. "We believe that the hospital in this community is an excellent hospital and the people that work there are good people that care about their patients and do a fine job. But in Mr. Prouty's case, the caregivers made a mistake. The mistake here lead to Mr. Prouty's death. We hope we can work together with the hospital to resolve this case in a fair way and bring some solace and closure to the Prouty family."
Prouty told New England Newspapers in April 2011 he would be missing a number of Select Board meetings because he had severely injured his foot and leg in a fall from a ladder caused by his leg suddenly going numb. He crawled 20 feet to a phone to call for help.
Prouty, who was 56 when he died, had been a member of the board for a number of years, with his most recent re-election in 2009 to a three-year seat. He was well respected in town and known for his commitment to the military and his community. Prouty is credited with bringing the transfer station up to its current level of standards, as well as being an important liaison between the board and the engineers who worked on the Waste Water Treatment Facility.
Many town officials expressed their grief at his passing, saying he was an excellent listener and had a way with people.