THE SPECTATOR’S VIEW: HHS right to seek review into two deaths

2013-0725-JenniferRyan-600x33514344_222301630878_5175132_nTheir stories are tragic.

Two young Hamilton moms have died. They were both in their twenties. One was pregnant with her second child. The other had two young sons. Each had worsening flu-like symptoms when they were sent home from Hamilton General Hospital.

The deaths of these young women are devastating for the families they leave behind. But it’s fair to say the circumstances of their passings have impacted the community at large.

Ashly Coville, 26, died on Dec. 26. Jennifer Ryan, 24, died on Jan. 14.
How did this happen? How can it be prevented in future?

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), which operates the General, is asking an outside expert to review these cases. Dr. Richard McLean, HHS executive vice-president of medical affairs and quality, told The Spectator’s Joanna Frketich that “outside eyes are always better” when it comes to learning from this unusual type of situation.

The two women were young and previously healthy. They died suddenly and unexpectedly. The city was in the midst of a massive peak of influenza A when Coville and Ryan became ill. Nine adults — eight of them seniors — and two children with flu have died in Hamilton. We don’t know if Coville and/or Ryan are included in those numbers.

An internal review of the deaths has indicated there was nothing the hospital’s emergency department or intensive care unit could have done differently. That’s fine. But it is both wise and right for HHS to call in an outside expert to look into the circumstances surrounding these deaths. Public confidence demands it.

The community needs to understand the clinical decision-making process that occurred before these two young moms died. We understand doctors are not infallible, but it is important we also understand how the conclusion was reached to send these patients home.

We also need to understand the nonclinical aspects of these cases. The husbands of both women say there were not told their wives could die. Coville’s husband says he was told she died of pneumonia; Ryan’s husband was told her death was caused by meningitis. We need to understand what, if any, followup occurred with the families.

Hospital officials are to meet early this week to discuss the terms of reference for the review. Those terms ought to go beyond the clinical issues; they ought to include a review of the support services that were — or were not — made available to the families.

And when the review is completed, it ought to be released to the community in its entirety. A summary is not adequate for the maintenance of public trust. These families and this community must know exactly what happened.

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